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The case for cotton

Tiny fragments of plastic – microplastics – are causing increasing concern among scientists. They enter animal food chains and build up in the oceans. There are many sources of microplastics, but did you know that many quite literally ‘come out in the wash’ when we clean our clothes? Luckily we can all make a difference by ditching polyester and nylon for cotton and wool.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are generally defined as shards of plastic smaller than 0.5cm. However many will be much smaller than this – the size of sand granules or dust particles.

Some microplastics are indirectly generated from general plastic pollution, for example plastic bottles or packaging which slowly break down in the sea.

Others are created by our direct use of certain plastics. Tyres wear down on roads and their rubber is washed away with the rain, eventually reaching the ocean. Another well-known source are the microbeads from beauty products which were recently banned in the UK (though not yet in most other countries).

The biggest direct source however is clothing, which accounts for up to a massive 35% of all the microplastics in our oceans. It is thought that over 60% of all textiles globally are now produced from artificial fibres.

According to the Marine Conservation Society, microplastics are commonly found in the fish we eat, and we are yet to fully understand their impacts on many parts of the environment. One thing is for sure – once it is created, plastic takes hundreds of years to break down.

Make a difference! Choose your clothes wisely

It may come as a surprise that so many of our clothes are made of plastic when the materials often feel so natural.

But it really is easy to make a positive difference here. When shopping, take the time to read the labels on clothes. Why not commit to only buying clothes made entirely (or at least mostly) from natural materials?

Natural materials include:

  • Cotton

  • Wool

  • Silk

  • Hemp Bamboo

Plastic materials include:

  • Polyester

  • Nylon

  • Acrylic

While you’re doing that, don’t throw away your existing plastic clothes. Now you have them, you’d might as well use them! Wash at 30 degrees with a slower spin to minimise the amount of microplastics being shed.

Natural fabrics aren’t perfect but they are better…

Natural materials undoubtedly have huge environmental benefits over plastics. The fact is they will biodegrade while plastics will not.

But it is important to acknowledge that they are rarely perfect. Try to use retailers who know what goes on in their supply chains and are committed to sourcing their materials sustainably and fairly.



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