Recently I started learning about microplastics and how prevalent they are in our oceans, food, drinking water, air, and bodies.
Previous studies have shown people eat and breathe in at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and that microplastic pollution is raining down on city dwellers, with London, UK, having the highest level of four cities analysed last year. The particles can harbour toxic chemicals and harmful microbes and are known to harm some marine creatures.
Other work has shown different kinds of nanoparticles from air pollution are present in human hearts and brains, and have been linked to brain cancer.
How do they get there?
Somehow it never occurred to me that the incredibly comfortable clothing we now have access to (and likely wear everyday, like my new RuLu Lululemon joggers), is made, almost in all cases partially and in many cases 100%, from plastic.
Around 60% of our clothing consists of synthetic materials or a mix of natural and synthetic fabrics. Synthetic materials include polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, spandex, polyamide & others.
I had never really stopped to think what polyester and spandex really are, but it had certainly never occurred to me that they are actually plastic by another name. We know that plastic can be bad to eat (don't chew on BPA if you plan to reproduce at some point), but do we really know what the effects of wearing it, sleeping in, on, and under it, and clothing our newborn babies in it really are?
New research is showing that nanoplastics are present and do accumulate in human tissues (which makes sense if we are consuming so much of it). A study from December 2020 states,
Once they are ingested, up to 90% of the plastic fragments that reach the intestine are excreted. However, one part is fragmented into nanoplastics which are capable, due to their small size and molecular properties, to penetrate the cells and cause harmful effects. The study establishes that alterations in food absorption have been described, as well as inflammatory reactions in the intestinal walls, changes in the composition and functioning of the gut microbiome, effects on the body’s metabolism and ability to produce, and lastly, alterations in immune responses.
This research is still in early stages, but really, who wants to gamble with changes to inflammatory reactions, changes in the gut microbiome (which is also linked to more and more essential functions), and immune response? I don't. And I don't want to gamble with my kid's either.
So, what can we do?
Thinking about a significant source of plastics coming from the clothes we buy and wear, we are doing two things:
Changing our clothing shopping habits
Installing a microfiber washing machine filter
1. Changing our clothing shopping habits.
Regarding shopping habits, it makes sense that reducing nanoplastic exposure from clothing could be achieved in a few ways:
Purchase and wear less synthetic materials
Purchase clothing made from natural, sustainably produced fibers
Buy less clothing overall and treasure the ones we have
Buy second-hand clothing, natural if possible, that has already been washed
This feels like a good start. The timing is also good (perhaps a small silver lining) - since the global pandemic began in 2020, clothing has become less formal, and with fewer places to go and people to see, it has also become much more about function and comfort, vs keeping up with fashion trends (blog about this to come as well). Given this context, the capsule wardrobe concept is beginning to make sense. Our first attempt at capsule wardrobes with both kids (winter wardrobe 3yo and 15mo) has been relatively successful. As this project took place prior to learning about nanoplastics, the next versions will include criteria for less synthetic items.
This brings me to the title of this blog, "Why we only buy our children used pyjamas." Going forward, this could be amended to "Why we only buy our children and ourselves used, natural fiber, sustainably produced, second-hand clothing that has already been washed." And can include the caveat "or new natural fiber, sustainably produced clothing that is washed pre-wear with a microfiber filter on the washing machine."
It feels like by making these changes at least we are living in a slightly more sustainable way. I also feel as though I can rest easier thinking that my children are not breathing in nanoparticles of plastic from their new fleece pyjamas every night. It might not save the oceans, but if we can help bring awareness, then that is a start we will consider useful. And hopefully helpful to our health.
2020's synthetic Christmas pyjamas
2. Installing a microfiber washing machine filter.
If you are interested in installing a microfiber filter, this is helpful reading. It seems logical enough and hard to argue when a year's worth of filters (with reduced washing) costs less than my new synthetic Lululemon pants ... (I am waiting for the filter to arrive before washing them). If anything, it will appease the conscious and hopefully have at least a micro-effect reducing our contribution to plastic pollution.
Innovative Slovenian start-up PlanetCare is the developer of one of the best solutions for microfiber pollution to date: a thoroughly tested washing machine filter that catches at least 80% of the released plastic fibers before they disappear down the drain.
We purchased a filter from PlanetCare here (this is not an affiliate link and we derive no profit or benefits from sharing this link).
Additional sources of interesting / helpful information:
Good On You, ranks clothing companies (all the ones I looked up were there with sadly surprisingly poor results) on the sustainability of their products and production process
OceanCleanWash, gives information on pollution from synthetics as well as solutions for consumers and producers
Ambroot's Material Environmental Sustainability Ratings, gives extensive information on the sustainability of materials and methods of rating
PlanetCare Blog, very helpful information on zero waste laundry and other sustainable practices
From OceanCleanWash Solutions for Customers: