Sustainability Infrastructure

There’s an environmental disaster happening in your washing machine. Here’s how to clean it up.

Some 80 percent of the trendy, inexpensive clothing we buy in America — also known as Fast Fashion — ends up in garbage dumps.

But we start polluting the environment before then — when we pop clothing with synthetics in the wash. It loosens microscopic fibers of plastic, known as microplastics, from the garment. Since they are too small to be caught by your washing machine’s filter, they rush down the drain. 

Eventually, these microplastics reach the oceans, where they are consumed by unsuspecting marine life. Some of those creatures die — but others end up in the food chain. So those microplastics that start out in your closet end up in your digestive system. A recent pilot study of 8 volunteers found microplastics in every one of their stool samples.

Fast Fashion is a 2.5 trillion global industry and growing fast — so concern about microplastics is growing with it. Experts say we must find solutions quickly, before we poison our oceans beyond repair.

Some companies are working to develop new filters for washing machines fine enough to trap synthetic fibers so that they can be disposed of safely, but none have been commercially successful as yet. 

In the meantime, there are a few products that can help screen microplastics out of your wastewater. GuppyFriend, from environmentally-conscious retail giant Patagonia, is a bag with a very fine mesh that can trap small particles. It couldn’t be easier to use: You put your synthetic clothes in the bag and put the bag in the wash. 

There are other products as well, such as EarthHero and Filtrol, which attach to your washing machine and filter the water before it reaches the drain.

Watch the video here to discover other strategies for keeping microplastics in check.