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Microplastics: The Hidden Problem Of Clothing


microplastic in hand

Have you ever had a small problem in your life, like missing the bus, just as you thought you were going to make it? Well, we bet you haven't encountered a problem so small that you can only see it with a microscope. What we are talking about? Tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics. 

The origins of microplastics

First, how tiny is tiny? In general we call pieces that are smaller than 1 mm microplastics. They can be round (microbeads), fibrous (microfiber) or any other shape, and come from different plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and elastane. These tiny pieces of plastic can come from multiple plastic sources.

From shampoos to fishing nets, a lot of things we humans use release microplastics into the environment. One of the more significant ways that they get into the environment is through the washing of our clothing. At this moment, more than 60% of all clothing, and more than 90% of all sportswear is made from these different plastics. Jup, you heard that right; most of the clothes that are in your closet probably contain a form of plastic.

 The impact of microplastics

"So, what is the problem of tiny plastics?" you might ask. It turns out that around 30% of all plastic in the ocean are microplastics. Even though you might not see the direct impact of microplastics -due to their small size- they still have a huge impact on marine life. In research conducted at Californian fish markets, up to 25% of the fish already had microplastics in them! This means that we already get plastic in our bodies, and we aren't even aware of it.

There is currently a lot of research being done on the effect that microplastics have on humans. So far, it is unclear what the long-term health impact is on us, but that will become clearer soon.

microplastic in ocean

The irony of recycling plastic

One misconception is that recycled polyester clothing comes from old polyester clothing. This is not true, as we've covered in this blog. Another big issue is that there is a lot of buzz around the recycling of plastics into clothing. But there is a catch here. You can already feel it coming: turtles can't eat plastic bottles ... but they CAN eat the thousands of microplastics that are released by a piece of clothing made from those same bottles.

What can I do against microplastics?

First of all, you can try to not buy clothing that contains any form of plastic in the fabric to avoid this problem. By buying clothes that are made from natural fabrics, you immediately stop releasing microplastics in the ocean. If you already own some pieces of plastic clothing like most of us, you can look for special washing bags that filter out the microplastics, which you can then throw away with other plastic waste.

Alright, that was it for this blog! If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for another blog, leave a reply!

Team Iron Roots