How Your Wardrobe Could Be Contaminating Our Oceans

03 Jul 2018


We at WoolOvers love the great outdoors, and so do our customers. Like so many of us, you probably try to do everything you can to preserve the natural beauty of our planet. You re-use your shopping bags. You wear layers in winter instead of turning up the heat. You buy palm oil-free peanut butter, then painstakingly scrub out the jar before you recycle it.

We’re all doing our bit to be greener these days, but there’s a big factor of your environmental footprint you may not have considered before: your wardrobe.

Blog WoolOvers: great outdoors


Unless you happen to be a naturist, it’s likely that at least some of your clothes are contributing to the ever-growing threat of marine pollution. Studies have shown that widely-used synthetic materials account for a huge proportion of microfibres that make it into the ocean. Microfibres are extremely fine strands of nylon, polyester, and other common synthetics. When you machine-wash a synthetic garment, its microfibres are worn off and washed down the drain. A single laundry load can wash off hundreds of thousands of these microfibres, and the older a piece of clothing gets, the more it will shed.

Microfibres are so tiny that wastewater treatment plants are unable to filter them all out, and some ultimately wind up in the ocean. This is where the real damage occurs. As they float around, microfibres absorb other water-borne pollutants, like industrial chemicals, pesticides, and engine oil. The fibres become little balls of toxicity which can end up being eaten by fish, and by extension, us.

Turtle - photo Unsplash


Although the threat of microfibre pollution has been studied since 2011, it’s only just starting to come into the spotlight. As the role of fast fashion and synthetic fibres in marine pollution becomes more apparent, various businesses and public figures are coming forward with possible solutions.

Some have suggested built-in washing machine filters, better able to catch microfibres before they make it to the drain. However, washing machine manufacturers have cited technical obstacles around creating filters fine enough to capture these tiny fibres while still processing wastewater efficiently.

Innovation in water treatment facilities is another potential solution, but this has its own difficulties. The necessary upgrades to treatment facilities would be a massive technical undertaking, which would rest mainly on the shoulders of small, publicly-funded bodies, and cost the taxpayer a pretty penny!

Washing machine - photo Unsplash


Clothing companies themselves are also starting to pay more attention to microfibre pollution, and come up with their own solutions. Canadian outdoor apparel company Arc’teryx has collaborated with Ocean Wise to start ‘fingerprinting’ various textile samples from their range, and measuring the rate at which they shed microfibres. It’s their hope that this will lead to a greater understanding of how microfibres make it from source to fish, and inform “solution-oriented designs, practices, and choices.” Patagonia have also been taking steps to minimise their contribution to marine pollution, including lab-based studies to quantify microfibres shed from their products in the wash. We’re even starting to see new devices specifically designed to curb microfibre pollution, such as the Cora Ball – a laundry ball designed to catch microfibres in the wash.


While innovators like these race to find a solution, what can you, the consumer, do to reduce microfibre pollution? We’ve done a little digging, and listed five easy habits to get into below:

Make a point to wash synthetic clothes less often, and on a shorter cycle

Only wash full loads. This will minimise the friction caused by the spin cycle, and ensure that less microfibres get released.

Switch to liquid detergent. Laundry powder is much more abrasive, and will scrub more microfibres loose in the wash.

Use a cooler temperature. This is not only more energy-efficient, but will also release less microfibres.

Look for clothes made with biodegradable natural fibres, for example, absolutely everything in the WoolOvers range!

WoolOvers natural knitwear


Photos Unsplash and WoolOvers

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