an itsy bitsy update

Following on from my musings on microfibre pollution the other day I have taken action (well, you know me, I don’t hang around) and I’ve done a bit more research.

First, the action. As I mentioned in the comments on my original post, a Twitter friend pointed me in the direction of some resources and information, leading me to the Guppyfriend washing bag. Sending all our manmade fibre garments to be recycled (even assuming that is possible) is probably not the most environmentally friendly option until they are actually unusable, so for the time being we need to maintain them whilst doing as little harm as possible. Reducing the shedding of microfibres when we do our laundry can be achieved by washing at low temperatures, using liquid detergent rather than powder, filling the washing machine (to reduce friction) and washing garments made of synthetic fibres less frequently. I do all of these already, so the other easily achievable action is to install a filter. I wanted a quick fix that avoided any plumbing (at least for the time being) and the best option seemed to be to buy a Guppyfriend – a monofibre polydamide laundry bag that you put synthetics into in the washing machine. The bag catches the fibres, which can be cleaned from it and disposed of appropriately (whatever that is) and when it reaches the end of its life, it can be recycled (once the zip is removed). I bought two – I will report back once I’ve used them.

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Guppyfriends

The other thing I did was a spot of research. I have been wondering for a while about whether the fibres from rayon are problematic. In case you don’t know, rayon is a manmade fibre, but made from plant material (cellulose) rather than petrochemicals. For example, viscose is a sort of rayon made from wood pulp; Tencel is a sort of rayon made from eucalyptus wood; bamboo fabric is a sort of rayon (unless it is referred to as bamboo linen, in which case it’s woven directly from the natural fibres). There are all sorts of issues associated with the chemical processes required to create these products (with the exception of Tencel, which is produced in a closed loop system that avoids chemical pollution). However, my particular interest this week was microfibre pollution. I discovered that rayon fibres are biodegradable. Indeed, they break down at approximately the same rate as cotton, if not a bit quicker. However, they do seem to be included in the figures for microplastic pollution in the sea, so I’m still not sure how ‘bad’ they actually are in this respect.

When it comes to the worst culprits, however, cheaply made fabrics are a real problem as they are not designed to last (for this and many other reasons we should avoid ‘throw-away fashion’ at all costs). Shedding seems to increase, too, with age, so I think that there comes a point  (when, I’m not sure) when we should think about recycling or repurposing (I’m considering stuffing a dog bed with some of mine). I’m afraid that acrylic does not come out well in the analysis, so all that cheap knitting yarn is not just a problem because it’s a product of the petrochemical industry, it’s also shedding fibres and damaging our aquatic systems.  The time has come, wherever possible, to move back to natural fibres and to be very thoughtful about our use of synthetics.

oh, and before I go, just a reminder that there’s still a few hours left to leave a comment on by 1001st post to be entered into my little celebratory prize draw… I’ll turn commenting off tomorrow morning (Saturday 2 December) to give US readers a little extra time (originally I was going to call a halt at midnight tonight).Please don’t be shy – I really do want to send you a lovely gift!

 

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26 Comments

  1. Thank you for doing so much research and sharing it with the rest of us! It saves me a lot of time. I have been using synthetic yarn quite a bit because it is both cheaper and easier to wash and dry than natural stuff. I spend so much time outdoors I get filthy and the animals mess up throws and things. I shall have to have a think about how to make changes. So thank you for the nudge!

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    • It is a very time-consuming business, finding stuff out! And often it just continues to raise questions… in particular, I really want to get to the bottom of the rayon thing.

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    • Your first post on microfibres also set me researching firstly to look at an alternative to the Guppy Bag – the coraball is a device you put into the machine with the wash that is said to pick up the microfibres. Coraballs have passed trial stage and are to be released for sale very soon. Second to look for a DIY solution to see whether the material used to make Guppybags is available to buy by the yard. There’s a mine of scientific info to work through, but the material appears to be that used to make parachutes. At the moment the only suppliers I can find are in America or China. I look forward to hearing how the Guppybag works for you.

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      • I saw the stuff about the Coraball too, but I was less convinced that it could actually catch as many fibres as something that enclosed the garments. I will be reporting back as soon as I’ve tested it out.

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  2. Thought provoking!

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  3. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  December 1, 2017

    Brilliant post. You have some really important information here. I was wondering about using a laundry bag already so will check out the one you mention. Generally we wear cotton, but we do have quite a few fleeces between us. I had forgotten that rayon was plant based and did not know about tencel, so all very useful. Thank you for sharing:-)

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  4. Thank you (again!) for making me think and reconsider what what I do. The amount of microfibres in our water is alarming. I have been trying to remove the more obvious plastics, but never thought about shedding from the washing. More incentive to buy natural fibres. And I never knew that rayon was plant based.

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    • Rayon is interesting stuff… almost all bamboo fabric is rayon – it’s marketed as being natural, but really it’s only semi-natural and it’s ever so difficult to find reliable information on the systems used to make it. The only company that is open and transparent about their rayon production is Lenzing, who make Tencel which, as I mentioned, is made from eucalyptus.

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  5. Laurie Graves

     /  December 1, 2017

    Great post. Lots of info.

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  6. I had been feeling pangs of guilt until I realised that about 95% of our clothing is made of pure natural fibres, a great deal more comfortable in our humid tropical weather than man-made. Once you’ve done your research on the Guppy bags, I shall be interested to hear the results, as there’s still a small fraction of artificial fibres that need to be washed.

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  7. Thanks for the info. I’ll be looking at what we have. Also, if our new washing machine (when we get one…) has a filter.

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  8. I was very late to the microfiber outdoor gear revolution, maintaining that wool was a better bet. As a result, I have two microfiber fleece garments, one of which has never been washed. Whew. But that guppy bag sounds like a good investment. Thanks for the research.

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  9. I like the idea of the guppy bag, too. In the past, I always did my best to select clothes made of natural fibres but recently more synthetic fibres have found their way into my wardrobe. This is partly because of the way fabric is made these days (added Lycra, for example) and partly because I get a lot of my clothes through a clothing exchange, which at least reduces waste but does mean a lot less choice in fabric, I’ve realised.

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  10. Thank you Jan. I really appreciate your research.
    So difficult to make the right choices sometimes. If a non-itchy, colourfast, mothproof, springy, machine-washable, reasonably priced, natural yarn was out there I’d get it – otherwise, when making clothes or blankets for children, the only thing that I have found that suits is Acrylic – hideous I know!

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  11. But how do you dispose of the fibres that the bag catches? If we chuck them in the bin they’ll end up in landfill, which might be better than ending up in the water, but still not great.

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  12. Thanks again for sharing all the info (and for collecting it in the first place). Like many of your commenters I wear mostly cotton. I do have a couple of fleece hoodies, though; I bought the to use as the base for some random crazy quilt type of jackets, then we moved and they went into the storage. I was sold on fleece as a good thing because apparently it’s sometimes made by recycling plastic bottles. I don’t know how true this is, of course. And while I hadn’t thought through the whole washing – fibres into the ocean thing, I was concerned about the eventual disposition of items into landfill. I do like the idea of prolonging their lives by using them as fill for pillow stuffing, for us or for pets.

    Thanks again for raising this issue; it’s SO important! Hugs to you. ~ LInne

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  13. I prefer wearing natural fibers when possible, but I was unaware that Rayon could be one of three different products. Thanks for sharing all you’ve learned. There is a lot to digest here, but it is all food for thought.

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