Plastic Microfibers in the Ocean & Why Hemp is Part of the Solution



These past few months, we’ve been hearing a lot about a particularly disturbing form of pollution that is plaguing our ocean. Last year, it was revealed that tiny fibers originating from synthetic textiles like Polyester, Nylon and Spandex are floating around in the ocean in the form of microplastics. The National Ocean Service defines them as "small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life."


Synthetic textiles are made in a factory and are basically spun plastic. Widely used for their durability and versatility, synthetic textiles are found in everything from T-Shirts to tablecloths. The problem is, the plastic fibers used to make these textiles do not fully break down. Plastic does not decompose or rot, and the tiny particles are too small to filter out, which is why we are now seeing tiny plastic microfibers in the ocean and on beaches where it has the opportunity to do a lot of harm. "The National Park Service and Clemson University’s Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science conducted a two-year research project to assess the abundance of microplastics and microdebris on beaches in 35 National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, and Seashores on the ocean and Great Lakes", you can see more about that here.



How can you combat this problem? The answer is simple, but it’s far from easy. You can use things like the GUPPYFRIEND washing bag (a project funded by Patagonia and sold at cost on their website), install a permanent washing machine filter like the Filtrol 160, and try spot cleaning your clothes as much as possible. Most importantly, avoid buying products made from synthetic fibers, and instead opt for sustainable fabrics like hemp! Hemp fabric is made from the fibers of a hemp plant, and are all natural. Hemp fabrics, though highly durable for things like napkins, towels and apparel, will eventually break down and decompose in the environment. This process is natural, and necessary!


What else can you do? According to research being conducted by Patagonia, “garments of a higher quality shed less in the wash than low-quality synthetic products, illustrating the importance for manufacturers and consumers alike to invest in gear built to last.” That’s right, your $4.99 Zara tank top was not constructed with the same care and quality that higher end products are known for. Every time you wash your cheap, synthetic fabric garments, microscopic pieces of the fabric is sloughing off and making its way to the ocean where it will remain for hundreds of years. You are much better off opting for quality products that can withstand multiple washings less frequently. You can learn more tips from the Plastic Pollution Coalition's website.

So, the next time you’re shopping for fashion or home goods, opt for a quality, eco-friendly material like hemp, and help keep plastic out of the ocean. If you haven't seen it, we recently released our hemp silk kimono which is extremely high-quality, designed and produced locally in San Francisco.



For additional reading: The President Signs a National Microbead Ban


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Written by Kerry Galbraith | Photos by Vanessa Latin