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Microfibres. What are they? And why they’re kind of a big deal


Feet floating in blue water - Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst
 
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Did you know that every amount of plastic ever made is still in existence? either buried in landfill, polluting the environment, or repurposed into something else made of plastic, it’s still on earth. Or that there is so much plastic in the ocean, that it is estimated that by the year 2050 there is predicted to be more plastic in the ocean than fish? Now how does this tie into a nappy bag? Most nappy bags are made of polyester, or EVA-coated or impregnated cotton canvas. Some nappy bags are ‘treated’ cotton canvas, without specifying what it has been treated with – probably some sort of chemical. The problem with these materials are that at the end of their life cycle, they just end up in landfill where they do not biodegrade. The processes used to make them are energy intensive, polluting and contribute to climate change. Not only that, but while they’re in use, when they are washed, the fibres which make up that polyester shirt / bag etc end up going down the drain straight into the ocean as microfibres.

What are microfibres? Where do they come from?

Microfibres are a type of microplastic, which is any plastic smaller than 5mm. Microfibres come from synthetic fibres, which make up synthetic materials. Synthetic materials are man-made from petro-chemicals (chemicals from petroleum), and are essentially plastic. On average, 9 million synthetic microfibres go down the drain in an average load of washing in Europe! One third of plastic in the open ocean comes from microfibres shed from washing our clothes.

Microfibres in oceanic plastic - New Scientist

Photo: New Scientist

Common synthetic materials include:

  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic
  • Neoprene
  • Econyl – a nylon fabric made from reclaimed plastics from the ocean. A better alternative to nylon, however it would still pose the same problem as other synthetic materials during and at the end of its life cycle. For this reason, I decided to avoid synthetics altogether. More on this in a future blog.

With so many things made of synthetic materials, its not surprising that microfibres eventually find their way into our bodies, through the air we breathe, the food we eat (seafood and salt) and what we drink (they’ve been found in tap water, bottled water and even beer). Microfibres have even made their way onto agricultural land (through the use of irrigation of farmland with treated wastewater). Even the stuff that ends up in landfill will eventually ‘leach’ out these microfibres onto the land. Basically, microfibres are everywhere. Its reported that on average, we consume and inhale the equivalent of a credit card of plastic per week, or 50,000 microfibres per year. We have no idea of the damage it could be doing to our bodies and if they release further toxins after we’ve consumed them. If this is news to you, its probably because its news to everyone. Microfibre pollution has only really been raised as an issue of concern in the last few years, even then, this hasn’t stopped people from buying things made of synthetic materials, and hasn’t stopped manufacturers from producing it.  Sometimes there just aren’t any alternatives to buying those things made of synthetic materials… sometimes its been gifted to us, sometimes we don’t know what its made of until after we’ve made a purchase and its too late.

 The reason I started this brand was because I wanted to buy a functional beach & nappy bag right around the time I became aware of microfibres, and couldn’t find any functional beach / nappy bags which weren’t made of synthetic materials.  At Mama Qucha, our products are made with natural materials like cotton, wool and leather. Where we use plastic, they are non-woven, and can therefore be recycled in soft plastic recycling schemes. With a vision to create a sustainable brand (think organic cotton), and with 1% of profits donated to Clean Oceans, at least now there’s an alternative. Support the cause, and join the Mama Qucha tribe today!

Vacation peace sign in the ocean - Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

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