The invisible danger - why we avoid microplastics
Did you know that each of us ingests microplastics the size of a credit card per week? It is ingested through the air, drinking water and our food. Our clothing, whether homemade or purchased, also plays a significant role in how microplastics enter our environment.
What is microplastic and why is it so problematic?
Microplastics are non-biodegradable plastic particles that are 5 millimeters and smaller. On the one hand, these small plastic particles are produced industrially and used in products such as cosmetics or cleaning agents (primary microplastic). On the other hand, microplastics are created when larger plastic parts break down over time (secondary microplastics). This includes not only plastic bags in the sea, but also the abrasion of tires or clothing made of synthetic fibers.
As plastics are used in many forms in our everyday lives, these particles end up in our oceans, inland waters and soils over time, causing damage whose severity we cannot yet fully assess. It is estimated that almost every living creature now has microplastics in its body. It is known that the ingestion of microplastics by marine organisms can lead to inflammation, poisoning, internal injuries and even death. In addition, microplastics can alter the structure of soils and thus the ecosystems of those creatures that contribute to the fertility of our soils. Microplastics also act like a magnet for pollutants, allowing pesticides, for example, to attach themselves to the particles. Our clothing therefore distributes tiny toxic particles all over the world, which may eventually end up on our plates again in the form of sea creatures.
We humans absorb microplastics through a variety of pathways: In addition to ingestion through the skin or inhalation, the particles end up in the human organism through drinking water or eating seafood/fish. The possible health consequences range from cancer, diabetes or nerve diseases to reproductive and developmental disorders.
It has only been in the last few years that microplastics have become known enough as a problem for consumers, manufacturers and politicians to concern themselves with it. In the meantime, microplastics can be found in the water, in the air, in the soil and even in regions far away from human civilization, such as the Arctic. Microplastics cannot be completely removed from the environment and since they are difficult to degrade, the concentration in nature will continue to increase. The consequences of microplastics for ecosystems, wildlife and also our health are not yet foreseeable. One thing is clear, the damage it is doing is irreversible and it is therefore crucial that we ensure now that more microplastics do not enter our environment.
What does this have to do with your fabrics?
Microplastics in cosmetics are currently on everyone's lips, as is a ban on plastic bags to reduce plastic in the oceans. What many don't know: About 35% of the total input of microplastics in the oceans comes from our clothing. This relates to synthetic textiles that contain substances such as spandex or polyester. About 70% of the fibres produced worldwide each year are chemical fibres, so the textile industry contributes to 15% of the annual plastic production.
Every time we wash our clothes, hundreds of thousands of tiny fibres come off. Unlike natural fibres, synthetic fibres are not biodegradable and accumulate in nature. The microscopic fibres cannot be filtered out of the water by washing machines. So they get into the wastewater and with the wastewater into the sewage treatment plants, which are also not able to filter out the tiny plastic particles completely. As a result, the fibres end up in open waters and eventually in the oceans, where they are absorbed by marine organisms. With sewage sludge as fertilizer, the synthetic fibers also end up in the fields and are thus also found in the soil. Thus, our clothes contribute significantly to the contamination of our environment with microplastics.
Synthetic fibres are everywhere. They are not just found in sportswear or cheap party tops anymore. A small percentage of synthetic fibers can now be found in a great many textiles, even if they are largely made of natural fibers. On the one hand, this brings down the price, and on the other hand, a few percent elastane is now standard. Even a polyester-cotton blended fabric releases around 130,000 fibres into the water, while pure polyester releases almost 500,000 fibres and polyacrylic even 730,000 fibres. Even though fabrics made of recycled polyester are currently being treated as a solution to the plastic problem, they are not an alternative from an ecological point of view. Because even with recycled polyester, the microplastic problem still remains.
While the problem with plastic waste in the ocean often seems abstract to us, the impact our clothing has on it is very concrete. It is entirely our choice whether our clothing is made of synthetic fibers or natural fibers, whether it emits microplastics or not. If you choose pure natural fibres, you can prevent your clothes from contributing to the poisoning of rivers, lakes and oceans.
Which fibres emit microplastics?
You might find the following fibers of concern in your fabric stash:
Polyester - At 60%, polyester makes up the largest percentage of synthetic fibers used. This includes recycled polyester from PET bottles.
Polyamide/Nylon - Because of its robust properties, it is mainly used in sports and outdoor clothing.
Polyacrylic/acrylic - Because of its fluffy, wool-like surface, polyacrylic is used as a cheap substitute for knitwear. The many small fibers cause polyacrylic to emit the highest amount of microplastics.
Spandex/Lycra/Spandex - Almost every fabric now contains 1 to 5 percent spandex. It's supposed to make clothes stretchier and more elastic, but it's not even necessary, especially in jersey and sweat fabrics.
The fact that we still don't know exactly what microplastics do to the environment should be reason enough to avoid them whenever possible. Besides, synthetic plastics in any form are based on the problematic and scarce raw material crude oil.
We at Siebenblau are aware of our responsibility and therefore do not use synthetic materials of any kind. We have changed our entire product range:
- All our fabrics are completely free of synthetic fibres.
- We have no more fabrics with elastane in our assortment
- We do not have any polyester fabrics in our assortment, not even recycled polyester.
- Our ingredients are also completely plastic-free
And what else? Completely plastic-free online shipping!
Of course we work plastic-free in our shop in Berlin. Orders are processed completely plastic-free from the moment we receive them to the moment they are packed and shipped. This starts with our office materials made of wood and ends with the paper tape for the packages. In addition, we do not generate any fabric waste. We sell scraps online or in our store for a lower price, and we process small pieces of fabric into swatches. Whatever small pieces are left over then find their way into the next sewing project as stuffing.
This makes Siebenblau consistently sustainable and environmentally conscious. We would be happy if we could make your sewing projects a little bit more sustainable!