Your favorite sweat-wicking workout clothes and cozy fleece jackets may be secretly poisoning you with microplastics. Many common synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, and spandex release tiny plastic microfibers into the water supply every time they are washed.
These microplastics make their way into our food chain and even our bodies, with potentially harmful health effects that are still being uncovered. New research shows that microplastics previously found in animals and seafood are also present in human blood and organs.
It’s time to take a closer look at our clothing choices to avoid contributing further to this plastic pollution crisis. In this article, we will examine the latest scientific evidence on microplastics from textiles, explain how they enter and impact our bodies, and outline steps you can take to choose safer, more sustainable fabrics.
The health of future generations may depend on collective action today to curb our dependence on synthetic fabrics that are shedding plastics into the environment with every wash.
What Are Microplastics
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters in size. They come from the breakdown of larger plastic products or the shedding of synthetic materials like polyester clothing. There are different types of microplastics:
- Primary microplastics are purposefully manufactured to be small, like the microbeads used in some cosmetics and personal care products. These have now been banned in many countries.
- Secondary microplastics result from the breaking down of larger plastic items through weathering and wear, like plastic bottles degrading into smaller fragments over time.
- Tertiary microplastics come from synthetic textiles shedding tiny plastic fibers when washed. These fibers from fabrics like polyester, acrylic, nylon, and spandex are too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants and can end up in the environment.
The main concerns around microplastics are that they do not biodegrade, they accumulate in the environment and food chain, and they can adsorb and concentrate other toxins and pollutants. Their small size also allows them to be ingested by animals and potentially enter human bodies.
Potential Impacts of Microplastics On The Human Body & Ecosystems:
Human Body Effects:
- Inflammation – Microplastics can cause inflammatory responses when inhaled or ingested. Chronic inflammation may lead to diseases.
- Cellular damage – The shape and chemical makeup of microplastics allows them to enter cells, causing oxidative stress and cell death.
- Disruption of gut microbiome – Microplastics could interfere with gastrointestinal bacteria that are vital for health.
- Bioaccumulation – Microplastics accumulate in organs and tissues, concentrating any toxic chemical additives they have absorbed.
- Immune system responses – Evidence shows microplastics provoke immune system reactions, which may lead to allergies or autoimmune disorders.
- Cancer risk – Chemical toxins on microplastics have carcinogenic effects. The accumulation of plastic particles in the body may promote tumor growth.
- Bioaccumulation up the food chain – Small aquatic organisms ingest microplastics which then transfer up to larger predators and fish that humans consume.
- Harm to aquatic life – Marine animals and fish larvae mistake microplastics for food. They block digestive tracts and gills, suppress immune function, and retard growth.
- Chemical toxicity – Harmful chemicals like flame retardants and plasticizers can leach from ingested microplastics and accumulate in animal tissues.
- Disruption of microbial communities – Microplastics reduce biodiversity and alter microbial population important for nutrient cycling and ecosystem function.
- Spread of invasive species – Plastic debris transports microorganisms, algae, and small invertebrates to non-native habitats.
- Soil health – Microplastics in agricultural soils may negatively affect plant growth and soil composition.
How Can I Avoid Microplastics
Here are some tips to reduce exposure and consumption of microplastics in your daily life:
- Choose natural fiber clothing – Synthetics like polyester shed microfibers when washed. Go for cotton, wool, silk, linen instead.
- Wash synthetic clothes less – When you do wash synthetics, use a front-loading machine and liquid detergent. These reduce fiber shedding.
- Use a microfiber catching filter on washing machines – Special filters like Cora Ball and Guppy Friend catch microfibers before they reach wastewater.
- Avoid plastic packaging and containers – Use glass, metal or cardboard alternatives to reduce microplastic contamination in food.
Click Here To Check Out Truly Free Home For Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products With Less Plastic Packaging
- Don’t use microbead products – Many countries have banned microbeads, but some products like decorations and cleaners may still contain them.
- Drink tap water – Bottled water has higher microplastic content from the bottle itself. Use a filter if concerned about tap water quality.
- Reduce use of plastic bags, food containers, plastic straws – Cut down on single-use plastics to prevent breakdown into microplastics.
- Support textile recycling – Advocate for more technological advances in microfiber filtration and plastic textile recycling.
- Be an informed consumer – Research companies’ efforts to minimize microplastics and plastic waste in their products and packaging.
Safe Clothing Materials To Purchase
Here are some safe, sustainable clothing materials to choose that will minimize exposure to harmful microplastics:
- Organic cotton – Durable, breathable, and biodegradable. Grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
- Hemp – Requires little water or pesticides to grow. Very strong and antimicrobial fabric that lasts for years.
- Linen – Made from flax plants. Biodegradable, lightweight, breathable and gets softer over time.
- Wool – Natural fiber that is renewable and biodegradable. Temperature-regulating and moisture-wicking properties.
- Silk – Luxurious fiber made by silkworms. Extremely strong natural protein fiber, antibacterial, and insulating.
- Bamboo – Bamboo fabric is naturally antimicrobial and moisture-wicking. Bamboo requires few pesticides and fertilizers to grow.
- Lyocell/Tencel – Made from cellulose of eucalyptus trees. Very soft, breathable and durable. Processed in a closed-loop system.
- Hemp-organic cotton blends – Combine strength and durability of hemp with softness of organic cotton.
The key is to look for third-party certifications like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or OEKO-TEX to ensure fabrics are free of harmful processing chemicals and pesticide residue. Supporting organic natural materials is better for our bodies and the environment.
The growing evidence that microplastics are making their way into our bodies is a stark reminder that synthetic fabrics designed for convenience can come at a cost to our health. While more research is still needed, taking precautions by choosing safer, natural fiber clothing when possible is a prudent step we can take immediately.
With the fashion industry being a major contributor to plastic pollution, we as consumers have an opportunity to influence change through our purchases. Seek out clothing made from organic cotton, linen, hemp, wool, and other biodegradable materials not treated with harmful chemicals. Support brands that engage in sustainable manufacturing practices and use natural dyes.
Transitioning to a microplastic-free wardrobe may take time and budget considerations. But even introducing a few non-synthetic pieces can make a difference. Aim to buy investment pieces of high quality natural fabrics that will last. Proper care and mending will extend their lifespan and further reduce waste.
Our clothing has an intimate relationship with our bodies as a second skin. Being mindful about how garments are made and integrating more earth-friendly options allows us to better protect our personal health while also demonstrating care for the communal environment we all share.