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Microfiber Pollution: from our Swimwear to the Ocean

By: Ana Rahlves


Summer time is here and we’re ready to hit the beach in our favorite swimwear, and to finally surf without a wetsuit. For some of us it means that it’s time to go shopping for the latest trends, and maybe try one of those brands that invade our social media with their ads. Before you click on the “buy” button, there’s something that I’d like to address when it comes to swimwear, and it’s a dark side that affects what provides us with our beloved sport: the oceans.


Swimwear (as well as many other type of clothes) is made of synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon. These fibers are non-biodegradable, their production depends on fossil fuel and when we wear them and wash them, they shed plastic microfibers. Microfibers are tiny little particles that commonly end up in water ways, reaching the ocean and staying intact for a long time. For clothes made with natural fibers such as cotton, microfibers will biodegrade, but as we now know that’s not the case of our swimwear.


It is estimated that 35% of all microplastics in the oceans are microfibers from synthetic textiles (stopmicrowaste.com). This is why I’d like to motivate you to learn more and take actions now to reduce the amount of microfibers that come from our swimwear.

Unfortunately, the ultimate solution to the microfibers problematic has not yet been found. You may be wondering about swimwear brands that use the term sustainable for their fabrics because they use recycled plastic in their products. Sadly, even if recycled PET is a step towards sustainability and circularity because they don’t use new materials, these fibers still shed plastic microfibers.


But don’t be discouraged. Here are some actions that we as surfers can take now to mitigate our contribution to microplastic pollution in the oceans:


  • Hand-wash, with cold water: washing machines and dryers are practical but they can make our laundry shed more microfibers. Studies found that “laundry wastewater is sending around two billion synthetic microfibers per second into Europe’s waters” (surfrider.org). It is better to hand-wash our swimwear with cold water, as hot water breaks up more fibers and to air dry it.

  • Choose a front load machine: According to Surfrider they shed 7 times less than top-loaders.

  • Reduce consumption: when it comes to being sustainable, the golden rule is: wear what you already have in your closet. So if you still have a couple of suits that are in decent condition, please consider keep using those instead of buying new products.

  • Shop high quality swimwear: high price tags do not always translate into high quality. Test the quality of the products before buying them by checking that the seams are sturdy, the fabric feels strong, and the lining seems durable.

  • Think long-term: also related to high quality, thinking long-term includes shopping for classic designs and shapes that you can comfortably wear today and in years to come.

  • Support sustainability efforts: most swimwear brands have a sustainability section on their website where you can read more about what they are doing to be responsible with the environment. This information will give you a better idea of who you’d like to support with your dollars when the time comes for your next swimwear purchase.


Sources:

Pulse of the fashion industry report 2018 & 2019. www.globalfashionagenda.com, https://stopmicrowaste.com/en/, Surfrider Foundation: http://www.beachapedia.org/Microfibers

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