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Is Your Laundry Hurting The Environment?

Posted Jul 25th, 2017

Is Your Laundry Hurting The Environment? SAMANTHA ZEITZ 

We already knew about the water waste that goes into the production of our clothing but researchers at the University of Leeds and the University of Plymouth say the environmental impact of our chic outfits doesn’t end there. 

Imogen Napper, a PhD student at Plymouth University recently told the BBC that polyester and acrylic clothing contain plastic. Every time the garments are washed, thousands of plastic fibers are released into the water. The water from our laundry makes its way through the sewage treatment system, could access the ocean and the marine environment. 

Napper’s research revealed that the average load of laundry in the UK of 13 pounds generates 140,000 fibres from polyester-cotton blend - almost half a million fibres from polyester, and more the 700,000 fibres from acrylic. The clothes used in the experiment were all similar fleecy blends, but some produced more microfibers than others. The next step is figuring out why some clothes wear out faster to help minimize unnecessary emissions of plastic. The Women’s Institute has begun campaigning for “innovative solutions” to help fight the problem.

One of the main contributors to this problem is waterproofed clothing. Most high-end waterproofing is done with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which can be considered toxic. Coating textiles and other materials with PFCs create a protective layer to prevent water and grease from seeping through, but at what cost? PFCs don’t deteriorate, leaving them to gather in the tissues of marine water life and contaminate their food and water. 

University of Plymouth professor Richard Thompson says the changes need to start at the design stage. Clothes that are well-made and less disposable would last longer and be better for the environment. But first, professor Richard Blackburn, head of the sustainable materials research groups at the University of Leeds says we must figure out what happens “in use”, when the clothes are worn and washed.

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