California Draws Attention to Polyester Pollution Problem

California Draws Attention to Polyester Pollution Problem

More than ever, light is being shed on the effects of the apparel on the environment. Industry insiders have been aware of these dire circumstances for some time now, but the general public who picks up a pair of jeans has no idea that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow cotton to produce that one pair. By the time it is ready for the consumer, it has taken 9,982 gallons from the cotton, dye process and wash.  In addition, the dye process is polluting waterways and causing “cancer villages” around major factories and manufacturers around the world.

And the Plot Thickens..

Now, it turns out it is not just the production of apparel that’s causing a disturbance; it is also the maintenance of them. This is in regard to polyester garments in particular. The American government’s new plan is to spur the public’s knowledge of this information. In fact, California is hoping to pass a bill that would leave a warning label on clothing whose fiber make-up is more than 50% polyester, according to Sourcing Journal Online.  They continued that this legislature passes, then the sale of apparel without the label will be prohibited by 2020.

So why is polyester garnering so much hate as of late? Well, it turns out that the fiber can shed 1,900 microfibers per wash, as stated by the bill. It furthers that these are troubling due to their size since they have made their way through filters and into the water supply. The pioneer of this, assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, draws on research done by UC Davis that detailed how “25% of fish and a third of shellfish” sampled at California fish markets contained plastic debris. To add insult to injury, most of that plastic were microfibers.

Further Action

Luckily, all hope is not lost. When you hand wash clothing with more than 50% polyester, there is a significant reduction in microfibers shed. That is a detail that the new label would detail to consumers. Also, the Hohenstein Institute is hard at work studying how to reduce the emission of these microfibers through technology and testing. Finally, the Plastic Pollution Coalition gives a few tips on how you can reduce your carbon footprint.

  1. Purchase a washing machine lint filter.
  2. Sign a petition urging designers to choose natural fabrics that aren’t prone to shedding.
  3. Avoid cheaply-made, “fast fashion” clothes as much as possible.
  4. Buy clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool.
  5. Wash synthetic clothes less often and for a shorter duration.
  6. Wash full load only as it results in less friction between the clothes. Resulting in fewer fiber shed.
  7. Use liquid laundry soap. The powder is abrasive and loosens more microfibers.
  8. Wash on a colder wash setting. High temps damage clothes and loosens fibers.
  9. Dry clothes at low revs. Higher revolutions increase the friction.
  10. Place lint from the trapper in the trash.
  11. Purchase the Guppy Friend wash bag. The bag captures 99% of fibers released in the washing process!

“The only thing that will last through the end of the world will be roaches, polyester and Cher,” said textile expert Deborah Young. All things considered, efforts on part of activists, government, researchers, and consumers can put a large dent in the pollution problem. This together can help stop the prediction from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that, “The world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.”


Author:  Christine Duff

Christine wants to live in a world filled with cutting edge fashion, beautiful words and and an endless supply of leather jackets and boots. A product development grad of FIDM, she was the Editor-in-Chief of MODE Magazine where she reignited her love of storytelling. She has diverse experience within the industry with trend research, art direction and styling editorial spreads. She gained her most notable experience working in Los Angeles at the satellite operation for GQ and Vogue Thailand. Christine is passionate about social science and the role it plays in the consumer goods industry and apparel in particular.


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