Yoga pants are great for a doing lot of things besides yoga. Think pajamas, what you wear to your kids’ soccer game, running out to get milk…
What they’re NOT good for is eating — either by us, or by fish, birds and other wildlife. That’s why the fact that yoga pants are ending up in the food chain as plastic microfibers we can’t even see, is so disturbing.
The Story of Stuff project explains this their new video, the Story of Microfibers. Yoga pants are made from plastic-based synthetic fabrics like polyester. Polyester is stretchy, easy to wash and dry, and pretty durable, which is why it’s so popular. But when you wash it, it sheds fragments of plastic that are so teeny, they’re not caught in washing machine filters or the filters at wastewater treatment plants.
Instead, the microfibers end up getting discharged into streams and rivers and eventually end up in the ocean. The fibers float around absorbing toxic chemicals like heavy metals and pesticides. These chemicals disrupt our endocrine systems, wreak havoc with our reproductive organs and may cause cancer. But of course, the fish don’t know that! Fish accidentally eat these microplastic pods, we eat the fish, and voilà. We (sort of) end up eating our yoga pants — and all the chemicals concentrated in the microfibers, too.
Polyester is the fastest growing fabric in the world. In fact, says the Story of Microfibers, 60% of fabric produced by the textiles industry in 2014 was polyester, and additional clothing is made from other plastic-laden synthetic fiber. When you think of plastic pollution in the water, you might think of plastic bags. But the Story of Microfibers says that “fibers are, by count, the single largest contributor to watershed plastic pollution in developed countries and account for a significant portion of plastic waste entering the ocean.”
What Can You Do?
Contact your own favorite brands and urge them to clean up their clothing — Send them an email, tweet them, call them out on Facebook, or talk to the manager when you shop in a store. Ask them to pass your concerns up the “chain of command” to their purchasing directors and sustainability vice presidents, if they have them.
Buy clothes made from natural fibers like cotton, wool, hemp, linen, and bamboo — Read the label before you buy. If that shirt or vest says “polyester,” leave it on the rack.
Wash clothes less — In many households, consumers wear something once and then toss it in the laundry. In fact, unless something is stinky, sweaty or grimy, it can often be worn a couple of times or more. Aim to wash clothes only when they need it.
Avoid fast fashion — Cheap clothes disintegrate much more quickly than garments that are made to last. BigGreenPurse.com offers these “9 Best Ways to Dress Like an Eco-Fashion Queen.”
Reduce use of plastic overall — Though the Story of Microfibers focuses primarily on clothing, all plastic breaks down into microfibers eventually. Bottles and bottle caps, packaging, plastic bags, toys, plastic beads in face and body wash, and fast food containers are additional sources of microplastic that can get into the food chain.
Explain what’s going on to your kids — Environmentalist Sam Love has written a very effective book called, My Little Plastic Bag, that shows kids how easy it is for fish to become laden with plastic. Even though Love’s book focuses on bags and not clothes, it effectively makes the same point.
While these are good steps, Beth Terry, the founder of MyPlasticFreeLife, says that’s not enough. She is urging clothing brands to invest time and resources to investigate how widespread the microfibers problem is and test potential solutions.
Consumers didn’t create this problem, but we can be part of the solution if we are mindful.
Now go do some yoga. Namaste.