That's the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles – and these small plastic fibres have even been found sealed in Arctic ice.
#SecondHandSeptember, a campaign run by Oxfam encouraging people across the UK to stop buying new clothes for the month in a bid to cut back on fast fashion, is in full swing. But, it's also important to check labels to see what our clothes are made from when shopping. This is because some fabrics have a higher environmental impact than others.
Here, George Sullivan, CEO of The Sole Supplier, reveals the five fabrics that have the biggest impact on our oceans – along with the switches you can make to shop with the planet in mind.
"Polyester is a type of plastic derived from petroleum and is used to make seatbelts, tents, carpets and yes… clothes," George explains.
"As well as being cheap, polyester clothing is often non-iron and quick-drying making it perfect for busy lifestyles. However, as a manmade fabric, it doesn’t come without its problems. While recycled plastic bottles are now being used to create some polyester fabrics, they’re not biodegradable."
What to do if you have polyester clothes? "If you have polyester items in your wardrobe, it’s far better to keep wearing them until you’re ready to sell or donate than throw away," says George.
"Lycra, or its non-branded name elastane, is famously stretchy but its eco-credentials don’t stretch as far," George says.
"Found in most activewear, lycra is a synthetic manmade fibre created from polyurethane that’s stronger and more durable than natural rubber. But, on the flipside, it’s also non-biodegradable and doesn’t have a very long shelf-life.
What to buy instead? "Look for bio-derived lycra made from natural renewable sources like corn or recycled polyester and nylon diverted from landfill," says George.
"Known for being the first 100% synthetic material, nylon is created by heating and spinning carbon chemicals into individual fibres," explains George. "Its waterproof and quick-drying properties make it perfect for outerwear and activewear, which sounds great but it takes a huge amount of energy, water and chemicals to produce nylon.
"Many clothing brands are taking a step in the right direction and are making the switch away from virgin Nylon and turning waste into resource. For example, Stella McCartney has pledged to only use ECONYL® regenerated nylon by 2020 which uses industrial plastic and fishing net waste to create new nylon yarn."
"A recent study found acrylic is the worst offender when it comes to releasing plastic particles in the wash – on average nearly 730,000, 1.5 times as many as polyester," George says.
"Being strong and warm with a wool-like feel, acrylic is often found in jumpers and tracksuits and as linings for boots and gloves. Like other synthetic fibres, it’s also cheap to produce.
"Perfect right? Not really. Many toxic substances are used to create acrylic fibre which can end up in wastewater. It’s also nearly impossible to recycle sustainably, so any discarded acrylic clothing items will likely end up in landfill."
What to do if you have polyester clothes? Look after them and help them last as long as possible. Sell or donate when you are finished with them.
"While vegan leather might be cruelty-free to animals, many aren’t environmentally friendly," explains George. "That’s because synthetic leather is usually made from PVC or PU which are both plastic-based, meaning they require a lot of chemicals to produce and aren’t biodegradable.
What to buy instead? "However, it’s not all doom and gloom. You can find eco-friendly vegan leathers made from natural fibres from pineapple leaves, kelp, paper, cork or areca palm. So, next time you shop, check to see if your favourite eco-brand is using plastic or natural fibres in their vegan leather."
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You can choose whether these stylish bottles come with a trigger spray or a pump and you can also personalise the label on them. They are a perfect replacement for plastic bottles: cleaning sprays, shampoo and conditioner, hand wash, washing-up liquid etc. They can be refilled at local refill stations. We suggest Ecover refills for cleaning products (list of stockists here) and Faith in Nature for personal hygiene (list here).
Ecoeggs are a long-lasting alternative to laundry capsules and detergents. It’s a recycled plastic egg, filled with mineral pellets, which you put in your washing machine as you would a normal capsule. The refillable mineral pellets are proven to be good for allergy-prone and sensitive skin and are also much better for the waterways.
Tip! The Ecoegg is great for everyday washing but you might want to consider a stronger stain remover on dirtier clothes or the natural bleach mentioned in the next few slides. You can also add extra scent to your laundry with essentials oils.
We love these sturdy dish brushes that not only do the job well but look much nicer in our kitchens, too. Their description reads: "Each cleaning brush is handmade and bristles are made from highly durable and long lasting coconut fibre."
Swap those yellow and green sponges which shed plastic into our sinks with these attractive, washable pads. Although they are much thinner than a traditional sponge and definitely feel different to use, they are great for washing up plates, bowls and glasses. They can be washed in the machine and are then fully recyclable when they do reach they end of their days.
This laundry bag collects the microfibres that escape from your clothes in the washing machine. You simply put your load in the bag and then put the entire bag in the machine. Once the load is done, the microfibres will be left in the bottom of the bag. These can't be recycled in most cases but this method stops them from entering the waterways and inevitably heading for the ocean.
This is an excellent cleaner which can be used to refill reusable bottles like the glass ones mentioned earlier. This product can be found at most Ecover refill stations but, if you would prefer buy a bottle, rest assured that it is made from recycled plastic and plant based materials and is fully recyclable.
Swap plastic-wrapped, single-use paper kitchen roll for these much more attractive, natural and washable cloths.
Swap cling film for beeswax wraps. They are perfect for fruit, veg, bread and bowls of leftovers. You simply warm the wax up with your hands and they mould around anything.
This natural bleach in a paper bag, from Mangle & Wringer, is a great alternative to big plastic bottles of harsh chemical bleach. On their website, the description reads: "Our Natural Bleach, also known as oxygen bleach, is a safe and non-toxic, biodegradable alternative to harsh chlorine bleach. When dissolved in water it releases oxygen which acts as a powerful stain remover and deodoriser. It breaks down harmlessly to oxygen, water and sodium carbonate. This miracle product brightens both whites and coloured fabrics and prevents them from yellowing. It’s great at removing organic stains like tea and coffee, fruit juice, food sauces, grass stains, pet stains, blood and red wine. Natural Bleach is also a great alternative to chlorine bleach in the bathroom. Dissolve in warm water to safely clean and disinfect the loo and clean drains. Also use to easily and safely clean and bleach sinks, baths, cups, mugs, tea and coffee pots."
Mangle & Wringer also do a range of cleaning balms in aluminium tins that can be reused or recycled. We love the lavender scented bathroom balm – you simply rub it in with a clean cloth, rinse and wash off.
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These tablets are friendly to the waterways and the cardboard packaging is fully-recyclable. Ecover have this to say about the plastic-wrapped tablets on their website: "Dishwasher tablets don’t react well to the moisture in the air. In fact, it causes them to crumble. We want you to open your box to find tablets, not powder, so we wrap each tablet. The packages of our dishwasher tablets are made of polypropylene and each pack weighs only 0.3 grams.We have not found a dissolvable film that meets our standards for biodegradability. We are actively investigating an alternative to this type of packaging – we’re looking at plant based options that meet our standards. We’re not there yet but when we find an alternative we will switch."
These reusable, washable clothes clean multiple surfaces with just water. The starter pack includes an e-cloth for bathroom, kitchen, windows, multi-surface and glass polishing
Don't spend 5p on another plastic bag – these string ones are perfect for your shopping and stylish too.
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