Having launched a clothing brand that aims to be as sustainable as the clothing industry allows, I'm often asked about the different ways in which we might be able to live a more sustainable, healthier life in general. While I'm by no means an expert and have a long way to go on my own path to sustainability, I have gathered a few titbits of information over the years that I thought I'd share to get your take on them.
And so, welcome to the first edition of Falling Leaf Clothing's Everyday Eco series, looking at possible habits we could incorporate into our everyday lives to try to lighten the load of some of that consumerist guilt we're all feeling.
This week: microplastics
While you won't have seen them, you'll certainly have heard of them. There are increasing concerns about their infiltration into our soils, waterways and even the food we eat.
So, what are they? Microplastics are particles of plastic debris that end up in the environment, resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. The main sources of microplastics appear to be textiles, tyres and city dust. So let's take a look at what that means for Falling Leaf Clothing.
About our stuff
While our t-shirts and beanies are made from 100% organic cotton, considered one of the most sustainable textiles available, our hoodies are created using a blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester. This is to:
improve the durability of the material, making the hoodies last much longer,
reduce the requirement for ironing, and
ensure the hoodies don't become misshapen through the washing cycle.
Choosing recycled polyester over virgin polyester saves a huge amount of energy and natural resource, while stopping post-consumer plastics from going to landfill and reducing the 9.5 million tonnes of plastic that end up in the oceans currently every year. That said, all polyblend textiles do have their downsides.
Despite all of its positives, we know that recycled polyester blended with organic cotton can shed microplastics just like any other plastic-containing product. Scientists say that clothing causes a high proportion of the microplastics produced and distributed into the environment, particularly when it's washed. So, what can we do?
Some quick wins
Reducing the amount of microplastics getting into the environment - particularly our water - is the goal, and there are a few ways in which that can be done when you pop them in the wash that you may already be familiar with:
Reducing the temperature of your wash - this make it less abrasive. Somewhere between 15°C and 30°C is ideal
Using biological detergent instead of non-bio - this contains fewer harsh chemicals that strip off microplastics. I switched to Smol's capsules a while back as they're easy to use, smell good, come in plastic-free packaging, and Good Housekeeping crowned them "best non-bio laundry capsules", but go here to take a look at the other ones they recommended.
Choosing liquid detergent instead of powder - this is softer and less abrasive on the clothes.
For the love of all things holy, please do avoid scent boosters (a pet peeve of mine!) and other unnecessary chemical additions to your wash, since they both break down the clothes you're washing and pollute the water all on their own.
Some bigger wins
Adding a filter to your wash or washer can significantly reduce the number of microplastics released during washing.
You can either go for:
an item you add to your wash, like a Coraball which reduces the fibres breaking off your clothing and catches those that do (at an average of 31%),
a bag that you put your washing into, like a Guppyfriend wash bag that does the same as the Coraball, but to a much greater extent (up to 86% reduction in breakage and over 90% collection of loose fibres), or
a filter that you apply directly to your washing machine, like a PlanetCare filter, though this will depend on your budget and how much space you have around your machine. It stops up to 90% of microfibres every wash, and PlanetCare collect all cartridges to ensure the microfibres trapped within don't end up in the environment.
France has already mandated that all new washing machines manufactured after January 2025 will need to have a microfibre filter fitted, and it looks like the UK will follow suit, thanks to the efforts of campaigners. However, even if this modification is mandated throughout the world, it's still a few years until we reach 2025, and even then I don't expect we'll all be heading out to buy new washing machines immediately, so it's worth doing what we can in the meantime to capture as many microplastics as we can.
FLC in the long term
Ideally, there will come a time when plastic is no longer used, at least en masse, or when it will have entered an infinite loop of recycling, by which point I'll be (apart from very old) looking to remove the recycled plastic elements from all of Falling Leaf's Clothing to extract ourselves from the loop. I've started looking into the options already and will keep you posted!
So, what do you think the solution is for microplastics? Do you use any of the filter options listed above? Got any sustainable habits of your own you'd like to share? Comment below, or send us a mail at email@example.com and you could feature in our next issue!
Thanks for reading :)
Founder, Falling Leaf Clothing