How Organic Baby Clothing Helps Reduce Microplastics Pollution

I have worked in the sustainability sector for quite some time now so it comes natural to me talking about plastic pollution and carbon emissions. I get so passionate that I often forget most of us don't do this for a living, and who has time and energy to read on everything you hear about sustainability after a long day with the kids or at work. So when I got together with my friends last weekend, it became apparent to me that most of them weren't aware of the amount of plastic in their wardrobes and the implications certain materials have on their kids health and the environment.

What surprised them in particular, was the amount of microfibers released with each wash cycle. While you think your washing machine is cleaning your clothes like a good samaritan, it is also shedding countless plastic fibers from synthetic textiles, making their way into rivers and oceans and harming marine life and our own health. 

There is an estimated 1.4 million trillion microfibers that are poisoning the oceans at this point in time. Microfibers from fashion is the industry’s invisible toxin and one load of washing could release up to 17 million microfibers into the water system.

The Dangers Of Synthetic Fabrics On The Environment

So, where is all this plastic coming from, you might wonder, and how can we stop it from drowning our planet in plastic waste?

I think most consumers would be shocked to learn that a vast majority of fashion—for instance anything that is made with polyester, nylon or rayon or organza—is simply plastic, made from finite fossil fuels. Unlike fibers derived from nature or animals like linen, hemp, cotton or wool, synthetic fibers are all artificial fibres made from petrochemicals that are absorbed by the skin of the wearer, potentially impacting your overall health the more wear you get out of them, and certainly shedding tons of microplastics over the years. (If you want to learn more about the environmental impact of natural vs synthetic fibers, you can read our Material Guide – The Real Cost of the Fibers You Wear).

Microfibers, defined as particles less than 5 millimeters in length, are generated in large quantities at every stage of a synthetic fiber's life cycle, from manufacturing and washing (which mechanically fragments synthetic fibers) to their end-of-life which most likely means landfill or the environment.

When they end up in the ocean, plankton and fish ingest these polluted microfibers. Scientists have found fish for human consumption are full of these tiny toxins. So you see, synthetic fibers are an increasing, long-term threat that must be tackled head-on, or we will poison our planet beyond redemption.

The Dangers Of Synthetic Fabrics On Our Kid's Health

As parents, we want the absolute best for our kids. Therefore, it is important we equip ourselves with the knowledge we need to make conscious decisions and live a healthier, non-toxic life.

We've already discovered that synthetic fibers are mostly made of polyester, which is a plastic and a by-product of petroleum.

Polyester is strongly linked to hormonal disruption and breast cancer.

So, it's not just the fish we eat, it has also to do with the plastic we put on our skin, our body's largest organ. Fashion made from plastic often contains toxins, chemicals, additives, and other hidden nasties that can be really harmful to our children's health. You often come to witness this on babies with eczema (like my own son unfortunately). When I make him wear a playsuit made from conventional cotton, his knees and elbows will flare up within hours. Did you know conventional cotton relies heavily on synthetic chemical pesticides and weed killers to help bring cotton from the fields to your closet?

Also factory workers, of which some are only children themselves, face health hazards in the process of turning petroleum into polyester which is a highly toxic undertaking.

Of all the things we surround our kids with, the most extended and intimate contact by far comes from textiles. Pesticide-heavy conventional farming leads to textiles that are rife with toxins. Whether it’s the clothing our kids wear or the fabrics and textiles they come into contact with on a daily basis—think towels, mattresses, sheets, and pillows—the toxins in these products have the potential for serious health issues down the line. 

Steps To Reduce Microplastics and Minimise Health Hazards

While we cannot control everything, thankfully we can make a multitude of toxin-free choices when it comes to what we put in and on our kids’ (and our own) bodies. Here are immediate steps anyone can take to reduce microplastic pollution and the overall toxic impact they have on our kids growing microbiomes:

    1. Choose organic/natural fabrics over synthetic fibers made from fossil-fuels (plastic): organic baby clothes are not sprayed with post-manufacturing chemicals, such as flame retardants. This prevents exposure to compounds that can be potential skin irritants.
    2. Choose GOTS and OEKO-Tex certified materials to ensure no chemicals or additives were combined with the organic fibers upon production, including non-toxic dyes (if you have a baby that suffers from eczema, you might want to opt in for non-dyed garments only)
    3. Avoid GMO cotton (it’s said that conventional cotton is only about 73% cotton, the rest is a mix of toxic pesticides to kill weeds)
    4. Buy a GuppyFriend washing bag – it filters the fibers that your clothing sheds in the washing machine. It's also a daily reminder to change our buying habits and washing rituals as it visualises the problem rather than washing it down the drain.
    5. Wash at low temperatures to minimise shedding of microplastics
    6. Use a front load washing machine because top loaders shed 6 times the amount of microplastics
    7. Don't buy into fast fashion which benefits from using cheap, plastic-based materials but instead opt in for sustainable fashion brands who go the extra mile for our planet and our people. It may cost you a little more upfront, but you can be assured that every touchpoint of a garment's life cycle and its impact on our children's health and the environment has been considered.
    8. Become fashion smart: educate yourself, raise awareness, use your purchasing power to drive positive change in the fashion industry and beyond.

Running Indie & Isaac has been one of the greatest privileges of my life – it has given me purpose at a time when often it’s easy to feel disenchanted with the world. However, sharing this platform with such a wonderful and engaged community fills me with hope everyday. 

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Image credit: Reve en Vert