Gone, gone, gone

For the first time in the history of this blog I have removed a post – well two actually.

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Organic cotton bath puff

Many moons ago I was interested in environmentally friendly alternatives to nylon bath puffs (scrubbies). I wrote a number of posts on the subject and explored a range of fibres to use. At the time, I was delighted to discover how well reclaimed acrylic yarn worked and I wrote a post about it. At the time, and with the information I had to hand, it seemed like a great way to use something that would otherwise simply be thrown out (yarn unravelled from old knitwear). Now, it turns out it was not such a good idea. Just like making fleece fabrics from recycled plastic bottles, which we all thought at the time was a great way to use waste, new information has made me think again. Using manmade fibres in bath puffs will add to microfibre contamination of water unless there is a fine filter on the bath/shower outlet, which seems unlikely. So, the two posts that mentioned using acrylic yarn for this purpose have been removed to prevent encouraging anyone else to try it.

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Soap and a flannel (the latter made by a friend)

It’s still easy enough to make bath puffs or cloths with natural fibres – cotton, hemp, nettle, or even wool, depending on the texture you desire. However, I like Kate‘s recent suggestion (see the comments in this post) about using loofahs if you want something with a rougher texture for washing yourself or your pots. If I spot some seeds, I may well have a go at growing my own – now that really would be a green solution. However, since starting to use bar soap, I’ve had no need for a bath puff. My favourite soap to use after swimming (ginger and lime) has little bits of ground ginger root in it and these provide all the exfoliation I need – naturally and biodegradably. I have also made myself (or been gifted) several cotton wash cloths/flannels and these are especially useful when travelling or when water is limited.

The moral of the story is that we do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at any given time, but that it’s important not to get stuck in a rut (or get defensive) and to make changes when new information comes to light. Have you had to revise your thinking on anything recently?

The Guppy Report

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Guppyfriends

Regular readers will remember that, in an attempt to further reduce the plastic pollution that I am responsible for, I decided to buy a Guppyfriend. Basically, this is a very fine mesh bag to use in the washing machine to trap fibres from manmade fabrics. In the end, I decided to buy two of them, because a single one is not big enough to contain a full load of washing. The decision was a good one, although not for the reason I initially thought. So, what did I think of them?

Pros: The bags arrived quickly and are well-made. There’s a little cover for the zip once it’s closed. to keep it in place and ensure that it doesn’t catch on anything. The opening is large, so there’s no difficulty filling or emptying the bags. Any items that I put in the bags seem to have come out as clean as without them.

Cons: If you only have one bag and you put all your washing in it for a small load, you might find that the drum of your machine becomes unbalanced and so won’t spin (this happened once when I was testing how well they worked). By splitting your wash between bags, this is less likely to be a problem. If you accidentally turn the bag inside out and reuse it, you’ll release any trapped fibres into your wash (unlikely as you’d notice before you got this far as the zip would be on the inside). If you stuffed the bag very fully, there would not be room for the items inside to move around and get washed/rinsed properly.

In fact the issues with washing distribution are probably only going to be significant if the majority of the things you are washing contain manmade fibres. Once I started carefully sorting my wash, I realised that a lot less than half of the things we wash contain non-natural fibres. Since natural fibres are biodegradable, these items (towels, bed linen, t-shirts, skirts, tea towels, dish cloths, sweatshirts, jeans, tunics, aprons…) don’t need to go in the guppy friend and go in the machine ‘naked’… thus being entirely free to circulate as the drum rotates.

Looking inside my Guppyfriends after a couple of months of use, I can’t really see any fibres and certainly no accumulation large enough to extract. I suspect that this is because of the nature of the items I’ve been washing: nothing ‘fluffy’ (no fleeces, for example) and those rare things that are 100% manmade (eg my swimming costumes) are very tightly woven. I’m sure households less focussed on avoiding manmade fibres in the first place might have a different experience, in which case the Guppyfriends would make a huge difference.

So, overall, I think they were a worthwhile purchase. They are no trouble to use and have the potential to make a real difference to microfibre pollution until we only use natural fibres for our clothes and household linens. Oh… and they are going to be really handy when I do any wet felting in the washing machine, as they will be so much more efficient than a pillowcase for stopping the filter getting clogged up with woolly fluff. This, however, is probably not a consideration for most potential users!

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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