Often issues we care about can seem daunting. Most of us wonder “how can I as one person make a difference?” This is true of issues like global warming, environmental pollution and even the fashion industry. Sometimes the problem feels so huge, we don’t know where to start and so we give up before we even begin.

So we’re going to tell you one place to start — something you could go home and do today that will help keep the environment free of pollutants, protect your own and others’ health, preserve your clothes for longer use and in turn help the people who make our clothes. It starts at ocean plastics, but not water bottles and shopping bags.

Microfibers are tiny strands of plastic less than 5 millimeters long that are shed from clothing made of synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and acrylic — including fabrics made from recycled water bottles and fishing nets — in washing machines. Though nearly invisible, half a million tons of these small fibers make their way into our oceans and waterways a year and have been found in fish we eat, drinking water and sea salt.

Photo: Up close and personal on fabric. There are tons of tiny fibers from our clothes that are polluting our waterways and our food. The Observer.

While there’s been a push to ban plastic microbeads in cosmetics, the amount of microfiber pollution in the ocean is 16 times that of microbeads. During each wash, clothing releases thousands of microfibers which then go to a wastewater treatment plant where they pass through fine screens into the ocean and other waterways. A recent study by the Environment Agency Austria found microplastics in human stool samples around the world.

Consumption of these plastics is particularly alarming because microfibers act like sponges and can absorb toxins in their journey from our clothing to our mouths. While switching to clothing made only of natural fibers would eliminate the shedding of plastic, this isn’t always practical. Below are tips from the environmental charity Hubbub’s #WhatsInMyWash campaign on how to reduce the number of microfibers released during wash cycles.

Photo: Tessa Thompson for Refinery29

Wash Less

Wash your clothing less, only when you really need to. Wear clothes a couple of times before throwing them in your laundry pile without a second thought.

 

Photo: Refinery29

Lower The Temp

Set your washing machine to a lower temperature like 30 degrees and chose shorter gentler cycles. If the wash cycle is gentler, less microfibers will be released.

 

Photo: Refinery29

Pack It In

Pack the washing machine with more clothing. This reduces the amount of friction between clothes which rubs microfibers loose.

 

Photo: Refinery29

Air Dry

Air dry your clothes instead of using the dryer. The dryer puts wear on your clothes, making them more likely to shed fibers.

Photo: Refinery29

Make it count

Buy fewer better clothes. Synthetic fabrics shed the most when they are first washed, so avoid buying new clothing unless it’s something you need or really want and buy higher quality more durable clothes.

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