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Microplastics: Is Sustainable Fashion Really The Answer?

Microplastics are flooding our ecosystems and crushing fertility rates. They penetrate our bodies, leeching through placentas and into the fragile fetuses of our unborn children.

These tiny plastics are everywhere -in everything- slowly choking our oceans and poisoning our wildlife and agriculture, their toxic touch corrupting our food and drinking water, the majority of which are the Microfibers released from our clothing. 

Can sustainable fashion offer a wave-breaking defense against the monstrous heights of this rising tide of microplastics?

Let’s find out:

 

What Are Microplastics?

As the name implies, Microplastics are those ity bits of plastic stabbing at your toes as you walk along the evening tide. By definition, they are any form of plastic less than 5mm (0.2 inches if you don’t prefer metric).

Let’s put that in perspective.

5mm is the size of your pencil’s eraser. Max. Yeah, those aren’t sandy seashells bitting your heels as you stand in the water, they’re ground fragments of commercial plastics.

They’re not just surfside, either. Many Microplastics are less than 25 microns. That’s around the size of a white blood cell! These little plastics love their travel, too. They've shown themselves to researchers in southern France, 60 miles from obvious sources, as they rained down on the pristine Pyrenees Mountains.  

How much of a downpour? According to the study published by Steve & Deonie Allen, scientists recorded as many particles per square meter as there are days in the year. That's in a single day!

The threat of Plastics has surged well past water bottles and cosmetics. It’s an atmospheric pollutant. Grab yourself a breath of that “fresh” air.

These tiniest of particles are what scientists categorize as Secondary Microplastics, the near-invisible and insidious form you’re breathing at this very moment. They form from the breakdown of their Primary counterparts, wind abrasion, ultraviolet radiation, and waves ripping them free from larger commercial plastics.

The main culprits? Single-use plastics, the ones we’re so quick to discard, like straws and plastic wraps, and microfibers flushed with the water after a load of laundry. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.

The serial issue with Microplastics is that they won’t go away. They’re worse than a clingy Ex! Plastics take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to break down, often plaguing our bodies and ecosystems with toxic chemicals.

But, here’s the rub. Though we are alarmingly aware of this flood of microfibers & microplastics in general, we simply don’t know enough about the long-term impact this all-encompassing plastic pollution is having on our health.

Here’s what wedo know:

 

Their Affect On Fertility & The Unborn

It’s a well-known fact that microplastics love to stick together and latch on to random things. They accumulate heavy metals like mercury and other persistent organic pollutants. As they break down? They release all kinds of nasty chemicals.

We should all know about Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates by now. BPA’s notoriety has been well documented as a principal concern in the disruption of hormones and the abnormal development of the male dangler.

It’s even suspected of increasing susceptibility to cancer, diabetes, and, yup, heart disease.

Phthalates? According to Medical News Today, if you’ve eaten out in the past day or two, congrats! You increased your exposure by 35% to this powerful hormone disrupter known to complicate fertility and pregnancy.

More than this, microplastics tend to get piggybacked by other nefarious particles like dioxins, metals, and pesticides. Every day, we are breathing, drinking, and eating these toxins. We're feeding our bodies a buffet of poisonous plastics!

It gets worse.

Dr. Shanna Swan, in her new book “Count Down,” states sperm counts are down 50% over the past 50 years with a dire outlook of almost tanking completely by 2045. Miscarriages, testosterone levels, and premature egg depletion? She says they’re all making similar, if not the same, changes and nose dives due to these micro-nuisances.

Not only are they affecting our ability to continue the human race, but they are now also found in our unborn fetuses.

That’s right, our children are now born pre-polluted.

Antonio Ragusa --let’s all take a mental breath here-- director of obstetrics and gynecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, conducted a study through which he found microplastics in not just the maternal side of the placenta, but also the fetal side and the membrane it develops in.

Here’s a quote from that study:

“Due to the crucial role of the placenta in supporting the fetus’s development and in acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern.”

As mentioned earlier, it’s not just in the air we breathe. Microplastics and Microfibers are hitting our oceans and agriculture just as hard, the vast majority of them too small for water treatment systems to filter them.

 

The Impacts On Our Ecosystems

We’re not the only ones floundering in a flood of fragmented plastics. According to the UN, yeah that UN, there are 500 times more microplastics in the oceans than there are stars in our galaxy.

They even estimate that by 2050, 99% of all seabirds will have ingested microplastics as they will outnumber the very fish in the seas!

Numbers like that make low sperm counts kind of an afterthought.

So, how do Microplastics affect our fishy friends? We may not have a lot of research on these poisonous plastic particles as they concern our health, but we have a ton on ocean life.

Countless research articles regurgitate the same message. From plankton to whales, microplastics have corrupted the marine food chain. The fish that are so lucky to ingest this extra side item boast higher levels of stress, liver cancer, hormonal dysfunction, a disruption in female fertility, and abnormal growth of male reproductive tissues.

Call me crazy, but that soundsreally familiar… No, you’re not “hearing an echo.” The same devastating effects on fish are now also found in our bodies and babies.

Land-loving flora & fauna aren’t spared either. In a study by Anderson Abel de Souza Machado, researchers stated, though “terrestrial systems have received far less scientific attention than their aquatic counterparts, microplastic contamination on land might be 4-23-fold larger than in the ocean.”

The global plastic fallout that rains down on our soil is depositing its toxins and disturbing delicate ecosystems. From fungi and earthworms to the yeast in your beer, Microfibers and Microplastics are wreaking havoc on the food chain.

With that, 10-out-of-10 researchers agree, Microplastics are “very bad. Would not recommend.”

 

Where are they coming from?

Until recently, another prime culprit was the production of microbeads. These were tiny beads of plastic, often smaller than a pinhead, that had seen use in cosmetics and personal care products like toothpaste and exfoliators until they were largely banned in late 2015 by Obama.

Other countries have followed suit, but these microbeads are still in production in most countries and are still finding their way into our ecosystems, broken down, and releasing their toxic payload.

Another, more obvious, contributor is single-use plastics. As we mentioned earlier, straws and water bottles often end up abraded and hit with ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This releases microplastics into our waterways, evaporating with the water into our atmosphere.

The real micro-menace?

As it turns out, every time we wash a load we flush an alarming amount of nylon, polyester, acrylic, and spandex out to sea, the Microfibers too small for filtration centers to catch.

In fact, 35% of all Microplastics come from clothing and textiles in the form of Microfibers. By estimation, Over 700k of these fibers release into your average wash. Yikes.

It’s not just in the wash, mind you. Upwards of 60% of our clothing is woven from plastics. Every time your threads rub against each other, thousands of microscopic fibers take flight and join the legions floating in the atmosphere.

 

Flatten The Curve… with Sustainable Fashion?

Eco-conscious sustainability seems to provide some valuable strategies to help cut down on our commercial contribution to microfiber pollution.

One way for sure is to ditch the acrylics like they’re that piercing you never told your mom about.

Avoiding nylons, polyesters, and the like all have a simple yet powerful effect on Microfiber reduction. When you’re not buying them, you’re signaling to brands you don’t approve of the materials, voting on better alternatives with your wallet.

Further, not owning and wearing these types of clothing, reduces the impact of microfibers in our surrounding air and water. That’s a win-win, no matter what.

Making sure you wash full loads in the laundry? That not only helps reduce the frequency, which in turn helps clothes last longer, but it doubles down on water and energy conservation, too! Stuffing that machine to its max capacity also cuts friction down, leading to fewer microplastics released into the water.

You can go the obvious route of buying organic cotton and recycled pieces, but when it comes to delicates? It can bemind-numbing trying to avoid synthetics. For the items you can’t part with or avoid, there are clever products on the market designed to catch their microfibers as they release into the wash. One such item is the Guppyfriend, a bag you stuff the perpetrating pieces into so they don’t poison our ecosystems and assault our fertility rates.

Another, less personal, tactic to flatten the microfiber curve is to write your legislation and favorite brands. Ask them to ditch the toxic threads and pursue promising alternatives in sustainable fashion.

The best way you can make a real difference? Help build awareness around Microplastics. It’s easy really. By sharing articles like this one with your friends and family, you help educate and empower a healthier future for what is dangerously becoming a plastic planet.

What you don’t know, can hurt you, so spread the word, and let’s save our ecosystems and one another from the toxic onslaught of microplastics.

Our unborn children will thank us.

Alrykson
Alrykson

Husband, father, and passionate lover of the written word, Kylan spends his days hiking with his wife deep under the verdant canopies of the Great Smokey Mountains and teaching his son the power of words & persuasive writing. On occasion, you'll see him sneaking out of the country to explore exotic locations, or spoiling his family with long trips to Korea to reunite with relatives.

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