Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues our planet is facing as the current demand and production of disposable plastic materials is overwhelming the natural worlds ability to deal with them.
It is estimated that 63% of all garments are made from synthetic, plastic fibres (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) such as polyester, which not only are reliant on fossil fuel extraction, but take centuries to break down and release toxic chemicals back into our soils and waters. Furthermore, every time we wash synthetic garments, such as swimwear, small micro plastics are released in the machine and into our water ways causing immense damage to marine life and vital eco systems.
A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all micro plastics in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles. One piece of polyester clothing can release 700,000 fibers in a single wash. These microplastic fibers are so small that they pass through the sewage treatment works and they tend to accumulate and act like sponges, soaking up all the toxic elements around them. Many fish and other aquatic animals swallow them, and if those animals eat them, we do too. This combined with pollution emitted during the production process makes fashion one of the most polluting industries in the world.
The plastic issue is so vast and complex within the fashion industry that a multi pronged approach is required to tackling it. The responsibility starts with designers as our vision prescribes which materials are used and how products are created. We have a choice to consider where the raw materials are coming from, are they sustainable and where can we use recycled/recovered/regenerated materials that would otherwise be wasted and harmful to the environment. For swimwear and sportswear, where synthetic fibres have the benefit of providing increased performance, strength, stretch and breathability (and therefore increase garment longevity, which in turn reduces the environmental impact), we can seek to use recycled and regenerated yarns, ensuring that no virgin synthetic fibres are being produced and we are circulating the existing plastic and keeping it out of the environment.
Only 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled. (R.Geyer, J. Jambeck, et al, 2017 SHIFT) which means there is still a lot out there that can be re-used!
Aftercare of synthetic garments has a HUGE part to play also, in fact the biggest impact of clothing on the environment happens after we get them home! As well as loving, repairing, re-useing and sharing garments we can also reduce the environmental impact considerably by the way we wash them. It is not necessary to machine wash swimwear after every wear, rinsing in water or soaking in an eco wash before hanging to dry is sufficient (we love the CLOTHES DOCTOR Eco wash No.5, specifically designed for synthetic and performance fabrics) and by being careful with suncream application we can extend the time we can wear swimwear for before it needs to be washed. When garments are finally ready to be machine washed, keeping the temperature cool helps the fabrics to last longer (heat breaks down fibres) and also saves energy being used for the cycle. Washing your clothes with cold water on a quick cycle uses half the energy of washing warm. Using a bag (such as GUPPYBAG) helps to reduce and catch micro plastic particles that would be otherwise be released into the machine.
Finally, there are some incredible companies and teams out there dedicated to cleaning our oceans, rivers and coastlines everyday, why not consider how you can directly support and give back to these communities. 4OCEAN is a fellow One percent for the Planet member and is a professional clean up crew which have removed over 10 million pounds of plastic from the oceans in 3 years! WASTE FREE OCEANS is a non-profit dedicated to collecting, sorting and transforming ocean plastics into brand new meaningful products, thus mitigating the impact on the environment and natural resources!
With swimwear season well underway, albeit at a modest pace compared to previous recent years, we have an opportunity to pause and fundamentally and systemically reconsider the way we design, produce and consume plastics as well as taking responsibility for what happens post consumer: a transition towards a circular economy for plastic in which it never becomes waste or pollution.