Life is Plastic- And it's not Fantastic
By Isabella Montoya
THE RISE OF MICROPLASTICS
Plastic or Planet? It is daunting to know how much plastic surrounds our daily lives and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. The majority of plastic that gets produced ends up in our oceans which then breaks down to extremely small particles due to environmental factors, such as sunlight (photodegradation) and wave action. These small particles are called microplastics. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), microplastics are less than five millimeters in length (sesame seed size) and thinner than human/barbie hair in diameter. These microplastics run through our sewages that trickle into our rivers and oceans. Subsequently, these microplastics are mistaken for food by the aquatic life, affecting more than 817 animal species around the world. According to the UN there are approximately 51 trillion microplastics particles floating in our oceans, that is 500 times more than stars in our galaxy. Plastic is to earth as kryptonite is to Superman. Once it reaches our oceans, there is really no effective way to remove them.
Microplastics are destroying our oceans and marine life at an alarming rate. A 2017 international union for conservation of nature report estimated about 35 percent of the microplastics that enter the ocean come via synthetic textiles (our clothes). Please take a moment and take a look at your clothing label right now... It is more than likely you are wearing something synthetic. Polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, acetate, spandex, lastex, and orlon, are all common varieties of polymer-based materials (plastic) that make up most of our clothing. The apparel industry is responsible for more than a third of microplastics in the ocean. Approximately 60% of our clothing are made from synthetic plastic fibers. Machine wash causes an estimated 700,000 fibers released into our oceans due to their high intensity force. “Fibers from synthetic clothes make their way into freshwater systems via washing machines. You can see this in action with a fleece jacket; just scratching the arm of the jacket can shed invisible fibers. As a result, tiny plastic fragments and fibers have now spread all over the planet. They're in deep sea trenches and in the air we breathe.” - Laura Parker, National Geographic.
The global demand for clothing is quite unavoidable and it is something that will simply not change. Like food, it is a necessity but we know better than to eat a burger with fries everyday. Our clothing choices just like our food choices should matter. Ideally, we need to combat microplastics through innovations and aim to put an end to the production of new synthetic textiles or any plastic whatsoever. While our current policies and regulations can lag behind the times, individual consumer behavior is capable of pressuring fashion companies to change their approach with production.
Since microplastics are inevitable, there are ways we can minimize our plastic footprint by buying less and washing only when necessary in addition to human scale solutions. Things like washing at a lower temperature, using a front-loading washing machine, and hang drying, all significantly reduce the breakdown of microplastics. Try avoiding synthetic fabrics, instead go for natural fabrics such as, hemp, cotton, silk and wool, it’s better for your skin too. The Cora Ball, or the Guppy Bag, both around $30, are human scale solutions to reduce breakdown of microplastics during the wash (great for gifting too). We are capable of independently making an informative decision on how we want to incorporate change into our daily lives. I like to refer to it as initiative vs. action. What will it be, Plastic or Planet? Stay curious and be informed.
"When it come to climate change, taking action will be much more costly than doing nothing."- Nicholas Stern
1.https://www.rubiconglobal.com/blog-ocean-pollution-facts/ 2.https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/02/552052-turn-tide-plastic-urges-un-microplastics-seas-now-outnumber-stars-our-galaxy 3.https://storyofstuff.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/IUCN-report-Primary-microplastics-in-the-oceans.pdf 4.https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes-plastic-pollution-polyester-washing-machine 5.https://friendsoftheearth.uk/plastics/microfibres-plastic-in-our-clothes 6.https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/news-plastics-microplastics-human-feces/