Microfiber is polluting our oceans. Let’s stop it!

Microfiber is polluting our oceans. Let's stop it!

Microfiber, the fabric used to make synthetic clothing, is a major contributor to ocean plastic pollution. Here’s how you can help stop it.

We talked not too long ago about plastic microbeads polluting the Great Lakes and harming marine life. It turns out this isn’t the only way that our fashion and beauty choices are connected to plastic pollution. A 2011 study found that plastic microfiber from clothing is a major contributor to ocean plastic pollution.

A 2011 study might sound like old news, but as Derek Markham at Treehugger points out, “unfortunately, [this issue] doesn’t seem to have gotten any traction in the industry or in the media since then.” That means there’s still work to do.

Every time we put our synthetic clothing through the wash, we send around 1900 pieces of plastic microfiber down the drain. Those microscopic pieces of plastic make their way through our sewage systems and eventually into the ocean. While 1900 pieces of microscopic anything isn’t much, this adds up when you consider how much of our clothing is made from synthetic materials. For some of us, everything we send into the wash contains at least some microfiber.

This is an issue that we can’t solve by buying second hand, because so much second hand clothing is made from synthetic fibers, too.

So, how can we stop the stream of microfiber into our oceans?

Sticking to natural materials is a good place to start. Organic cotton, hemp, and linen are all good options. When you’re shopping, keep an eye out for fabrics that don’t look totally natural. Sateen cotton is a good example. That sine on sateen fabric comes from – you guessed it – plastic.

Unfortunately, finding the clothing you want made from natural materials isn’t always easy. That’s why the real area where we need to see a change isn’t in consumer habits. It’s at the industry level. But as consumers, we have powerful voices! The folks at Story of Stuff have launched a campaign aimed at one of the leading ethical sportswear companies: Columbia Sportswear.

The petition asks Columbia to “Become an industry leader by researching how to make clothing that doesn’t pollute our oceans with plastic!” If you want to get heard on this issue, you can sign the petition here. You can also contact your favorite clothing manufacturer and tell them that you’re concerned about microfibers. The petition page links to a Greatist list of sportswear companies that might be most open to our voices on the microfiber issue.

Image Credit: Washing Machine photo via Shutterstock


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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .
  • This is very interesting science. Our goal is to make clothing from organic and recycled fabrics, because these are better than non-organic and non-recycled fabrics but I think we need to take it a step further and only use natural fibers like organic cotton, wool, hemp and tencel, we can’t be a brand that makes “clothing for a pure ocean” and use poly based on this new science. Seems we need to recycle plastic for items that don’t need to be washed, like beanies.