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Patagonia Study Highlights Microfiber Pollution’s Dark, Dirty Presence on Our Planet

What happens if everyone in an American city washed an old coat once?

Approximately nine to 110 kilograms of microfibers would be released into nearby waterbodies, which could be as much as 15,000 plastic bags. For a typically clean process, it definitely is a dirtier one.

Apparel industry members and consumers are unaware of their environmentally damaging contributions on a regular basis, but a recent Patagonia study could change perspectives about how fashion harms humans, wildlife and Earth.

According to the study, the age of synthetic clothing and the washing machine model are key factors for microfiber pollution. The study revealed that when washed, aged jackets shed higher fiber amounts (1.8 times more) than new jackets. The study also showed that if jackets are washed in a top-load machine, they shed 5.3 times more than those washed in front-load machines.

Microfiber pollution today is present throughout global atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Oceans and marine systems are the most exposed to microfiber pollution, due to wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) releasing fibers into local bodies of water.

Because of the buildup of these man-made fibers, aquatic animals are harmed immensely throughout their food chains, as they consume microfibers quickly and unknowingly, causing physical issues including digestive and reproductive organ complications.

Although humans aren’t in an ocean habitat, the microfibers still impact their health, too. Sushi and even sea salt may contain traces of microfibers, which are known to cause gastrointestinal infections.

Apparel industry members and consumers may be unaware of the harmful effects of microfiber pollution, but there are still opportunities to advocate for better, more sustainable fashion practices.

As a brand that also contributes to this environmental problem, Patagonia said it’s taking initiatives to change Earth’s current situation. With the Patagonia Plastics Project, the company will assess its own clothing ecological impacts and also help other apparel industry members and consumers increase sustainability and decrease microfiber pollution.