Microfibers: The Hidden Problem of Polyester – Iron Roots


Microfibers: The Hidden Problem of Polyester

turtle plastic bag
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 yet that's so small you can only see it with a microscope. What are we talking about? Tiny bits of plastic called microfibers.

These microfibers are tiny pieces (<1 mm) of varieties of plastic, such as polyester, nylon or polyamide that are usually found in clothing. It is estimated that around 60% of all clothing created contain a form of plastic, and thus microfibers.


‘So what is the issue with this?’, you might think. It turns out at around 85% (?!) of all of the human debris found on shorelines, and around 30% of all ocean pollution comes from these microfibers. Wait ... what...? But how do these fibers end up on our shorelines, when they are supposed to be in our clothing? The missing link here is washing. Every time when you wash plastic clothing, little pieces of plastic get loose from your favorite t-shirt and slip through the filter that you have in your washing machine.

Even though you might not see the direct impact of microfibers -due to their small size- they still have a great impact on marine life. In research done at Californian fishmarkets, up to 25% of the fish already had microfibers in them! This means that we already get plastic in our bodies, and we aren't even aware of it.

The irony of recycling

Another essential issue is that there is a lot of buzz around the recycling of plastics, into clothing. You can already feel it coming: turtles can't eat plastic bottles ... but they CAN eat the thousands of microfibers that are released by a piece of clothing made from those same bottles.

What can I do about this?

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 microfibers 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 microfibers, which you can then throw away. These can be found in many stores.

Alright, that's it for this Future Friday!