Our Clothes are Polluting the Ocean

I’ve seen a couple of articles lately addressing how even just one simple load of laundry is polluting the ocean, and, as I’m sure you are, I was shocked! I had never heard of this, or even considered it. I think that’s the case a lot of times, isn’t it? We have no idea the harm we are doing or the bad things happening until someone presents it to us! So I began researching, and decided to lay it all out for you so you can also be informed of another piece of your carbon footprint on our planet Earth.


Our clothes are either made of synthetic fibers, natural fibers, or a blend of both. When we wash our clothes, hundreds of thousands of tiny little microscopic fibers fall off and drain out of the washer with the water.  The natural ones, such as organic cotton, wool, linen, and silk, obviously don’t affect our environment negatively because they are natural to the environment! Not harmful. However, the synthetic ones- polyester, rayon, spandex, acrylic, and nylon- are building up and causing incredible harm to the oceans and the marine life, in ways that are still being investigated because of how new these findings are.

What does synthetic mean? What is it? Well typically, it’s PLASTIC! Yes, we are creating immense awareness and implementing new guidelines for controlling the amount of plastic that we use and dispose of because of its harmful effects. But not a lot is known about what exactly the fibers are effecting. We ban straws because we see pictures of them stuck in sea turtles noses(heartbreaking ), we use reusable bags and bottles because we see the buildup of them along the beach shores. But we haven’t been able to really see  the effects of these fibers yet.

A professor in the Great Lakes investigating pollution in the area cut open a fish and was shocked to see synthetic fibers everywhere. Under a microscope, she could actually see them imbedded into the organs of the fish. She said she had never seen anything like it before. Since then, there have been many studies showing the pollution our clothes are causing. These fibers not only fall off in the wash, but also flake off just walking down the street and can end up in streets. Though it may not seem like very much, when you imagine how many loads of laundry are done every day in the world, that builds up fast.  


An incredible increase in the use of these synthetic fibers has appeared in the last 10 or so years. The connection, scientists say, is the increase of mass production of cheap fashion. H&M, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe. These places are so great for getting cheap fashion to fill your wardrobe! I can walk into H&M and walk out an hour later with 10 items for the same price of the one blouse I would purchase in the designer section of Bloomingdales. Because there’s this desire for cheaper clothes, and a lot more of them, stores like these are becoming more accessible and people are less likely to slow down and spend a little more money on quality, natural fiber clothing.


Mass production of cheaper clothing isn’t the only cause for the recent increase in synthetic fibers. While we all love our Lulu leggings and the ability to wear our comfy clothes in public and it be socially acceptable, the trendy style of athleisure is also to blame. Synthetic fibers offer more versatility in the fabrics, allowing more stretch and breathability in our leggings, tank tops, and athletic shorts.  

Side note: Doctors offices are warning people not to wear their Lulu Lemon and similar athleisure brands  for their next MRI scan, due to the company’s use of metallic fibers on some of the clothing. Here’s more info on that


The best ways to lessen your impact on synthetic fiber pollution begin with awareness, which is what you’re doing by reading this article and the ones I linked below! Next, you can get products to help prevent this pollution, such as the GUPPYFRIEND created by Patagonia. Its a bag you wash your clothes in that reduces the amount of shedding your clothes experience and catches the fibers that do shed and keeps them from leaving the washer through the drain. Their website also has a lot of useful information and statistics! Another way to reduce your contribution to this pollution problem is by checking the label of clothes before you buy! Like I mentioned earlier, the more common safe fabrics include organic cotton, silk, wool, and linen. When buying T-shirt’s, look for 100% cotton. Anything less is a cotton-blend, likely including a synthetic like polyester. My last tip is to shop from organic clothing companies!

Places like Synergy, who sources all their organic cotton in California from farmers they claim are “well-paid and under good conditions.”

Synergy Flax Brooklyn Dress $84

Synergy Flax Brooklyn Dress $84

Groceries Apparel is based in Los Angeles and focuses on organic cotton “from seed to skin” and is very conscious in minimizing their carbon footprint.

Groceries Apparel Organic Cotton Amelia Crop Top $54


Groceries Apparel Organic Cotton Amelia Crop Top $54

For more organic clothing brands, click here.

For more information on microplastic pollution, check out the links below.

VOX: Ocean Plastic Pollution

How Your Clothes are Polluting our Ocean and Food Supply

photo: Wolf Schram

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