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!

 

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny

I’ve been pleased to see over the past week that there has been a lot of publicity in the UK about plastic pollution in the seas. It seems that if David Attenborough highlights an issue, the public will finally sit up and take notice. Well, thank goodness someone has this power.

It’s relatively easy to show the horrible effects of things like plastic bags and balloons on sea creatures, but tiny fragments of plastic are a problem too and it’s these that I have been thinking about recently. Plastic fibres and microbeads enter the food chain at the smallest level and are particularly insidious – many plankton are unable to distinguish between plastic and real food, so ingest the former indiscriminately, potentially causing their guts to be blocked (you can read more about this and follow the linked references in this article).

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Pure woolly warmth

And so, I have been considering ways that I can reduce the tiny bits of plastic that I am responsible for in the environment. I’m not sure that I have ever used a product containing microbeads, and I certainly don’t use any now. I think that my biggest source of micro-plastics, therefore, is from fibres originating from fabrics. Years ago we were all delighted to wear garments made of synthetic fleece made from recycled plastics, but now we discover that every time we wash these clothes, we are putting more fibres into the water. So, no more fleece jumpers for me – my two new ones are both pure wool. The same is true for any manmade fibres and so I’m trying (mostly)  to phase them out. A while back I was happy to use upcycled acrylic yarn to make bath puffs, but now I think it’s best avoided. My new dishcloths are cotton and when we get round to replacing carpets and curtains they too will be made of natural fibres.

 

Now I think about it, I don’t know for sure the composition of any of the carpets in our house because they are the ones that were here when we moved in. I do know, however, that none of my curtains contain manmade fibres, so I can feel happy about those. And this brings me round to being concerned about how we dispose of items made of manmade fibres. If I decide that I would like to have a new wool carpet, what do I do with the old one of unknown composition? Similarly – is it better keep wearing my fleeces until they wear out and then replace them with something kinder to the environment or dispose of them right away so that I am not continuing to add to microplastic pollution? And if the latter, what do I do with them?

I don’t have any answers to these quandaries and I’m wondering what approach anyone else takes. Suggestions most welcome.

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