There are microfibres in your beer

You need more than “the touch test” to find ethical clothing

This week I attended a workshop on microfibre pollution hosted by The Bus Store Bookshop at  LifeSpin in London. The workshop was designed by the Synthetic Collective, a group from Western University, and presented by Kristy Robertson, who teaches there. I hadn’t planned to do another post on clothing for a while, as there are other subjects I want to cover. I’m really encouraged, though, by the amount of interest there is in this topic. It just keeps coming up, wherever I turn.

When I first got the notice I thought, “A workshop? Really? Can’t they just e-mail me the info?” But I made the trip anyway, and I’m glad I did, because you really did need to be there, to touch and see the fabrics. We started off by trying to find an article of clothing we could be sure wasn’t harmful to the environment. Predictably, we failed. The most common reason was the presence of microfibres, tiny synthetic particles found in most clothing that we buy. When clothing is washed, these particles are shed, and they are everywhere; in water, in the air, in the food chain, and yes, even in Black Swan Porter (my personal favourite). You can’t see them, but they’re there.

The bad news:

  • Damage to environment: Microplastics are everywhere, making up 85% of manmade debris found on shorelines worldwide (I’m pretty sure you know this already). Microfibres are the smallest microplastic particles, and ride on the ocean, just under the surface, as floating goo.
  • Remediation is difficult: Most sewage treatment plants can capture microplastics, but microfibres are too small. There are filters that can be added to a washload, but again, microfibres are too small for them.
  • Harm for humans: We have no idea what this means for our health. The studies just aren’t there. This means that we can’t legislate against them.

The good news:

  • Front-loading washers shed fewer microfibres
  • Wool, silk and flax are best clothing choices, but watch out for dyes. Support knowledgeable clothing stores.
  • Used clothing has already had many of the microfibres washed out, so if you must buy a synthetic, try a consignment store.

Future actions:

  • Advocate for wastewater treatment reform
  • Support regulation for washing machine retrofits
  • Alter our washing machine use. No unnecessary washing, seek out better filters.
  • Look for biodegradables when shopping (not just clothing: linens, curtains, mops, cleaning accessories)

All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m really impressed with the Synthetic Collective. They have this great idea of putting their materials together in a slideshow that will be made available for community groups to use on their own. Anybody interested in doing one here in Stratford?

 

 

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