Clean Out the Closet

I was reading about a study published last year that highlights the kind of scientific sleuthing that got me hooked on research in the first place.

A group of researchers sampled marine shoreline habitats across six continents and found that shorelines near densely-populated areas had higher levels of microplastic debris. This type of debris is not often considered in pollution debates, usually because we’re too caught up with the obvious Uglies like plastic shopping bags and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which I have discussed in ‘All Hail the Goddes Disposability’ (see also ‘A Ghost of an Idea’ and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’). Microplastic debris, on the other hand, includes tiny polyester or acrylic fibres that escape from their parent bodies through normal break-down processes … or from household laundry.

Yes, that’s right. The researchers traced the fibres they found back a little way and discovered that the artificial fibres polluting these shoreline habitats were more likely to come, not only from the usual suspects like plastic bottles and cleaning products, but from loads of laundry. Apparently, some garments can produce more than 1900 fibres per wash, which are flushed out with the washing machine’s wastewater, and make their way through the sewage system and out to the sea. Items like blankets and fleecy materials are the biggest culprits.

Sadly, many environmentally-conscious people buy and wear only artificial fibres, in an effort to reduce their impact on the earth’s resources. The idea here is that by refusing to buy natural fibres, you can reduce deforestation, fragmentation, erosion, water overuse etc. – all those destructive processes that can arise from many large-scale (mismanaged) fibre production industries, such as cotton or wool.

In theory, this is great and the motives are admirable, but maybe the focus needs to return to the Earth, instead of Us. If we consider our impact within the context of the Earth’s natural cycles, instead of outside of it, cotton shirts don’t seem such a bad idea. Yes, they still produce fibres, but what comes from the earth, will always return to the earth with minimal impact.

If you can wear a 100% organic cotton shirt, as opposed to a 100% polyester one, not only will your skin thank you, but the Earth will too, escaping yet another dumping of artificial fibres that will take hundreds of years to break down and contribute to the bioaccumulation of toxic compounds in local plants and animals. And you will be helping farmers in the majority world maintain good health and financial independence in the face of agri-corporate slavery … but that’s a story for another time.

Organic cotton - 100% natural (Photo: Greenpeace)

© Manu Saunders 2012

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