There is growing public concern about the amount of plastics ending up in rivers and oceans. Straws, coffee cups, cosmetics, wet wipes and even tea bags are being viewed in a new light. But what about our clothes? Surely they can’t be part of the problem? Evidence suggests otherwise and Hubbub’s new #WhatsInMyWash campaign is urging people to be curious about how the clothes they buy might be contributing to plastic pollution.

The chances are that the clothes you are wearing will contain synthetic fabrics like polyester, acrylic and nylon. When washed, these fabrics shed plastic microfibres that flow down our drains and into rivers and oceans. These microfibres can end up in the food chain with studies finding their presence in food as diverse as mussels, table salt and beer. The impact on long-term public health is unknown and is the subject for a growing level of international research.

What we do know is that clothing is one of the major sources of microplastic pollution with an estimated 35% of primary microplastics entering our oceans come from washing textiles. This is causing 16 times more plastic pollution than microbeads from cosmetics, which are now banned from products in the UK.

Hubbub is sufficiently concerned about the evidence to launch the #WhatsInMyWash campaign. The campaign has two aims:

  1. To support the growing level of collaboration that is taking place between businesses, academics and NGOs.
  2. To run engagement campaigns that help to reduce the problem based upon sound science. 

Creating greater collaboration

Behind the scenes industry, NGOs and academics have started working together to find solutions. This collaboration is essential if long-lasting impactful change is to be delivered. Hubbub will work with these groups helping them to recruit more organisations to boost their impact and to communicate their findings to the public in a way that is engaging and compelling.

Hubbub’s hope is that as more people become aware about the connection between fabrics and microplastic, the greater the pressure will be to address the problem. To keep people up-to-date on latest developments Hubbub has created a new on-line resource at www.whatsinmywash.org.uk.

If your organisation could be part of the solution and you want to know how to get involved, please get in touch.

Delivering campaigns

Hubbub will use the latest research to create campaigns encouraging people to be curious about the environmental impact of clothes, and help them play an active role in reducing microplastics. Research is currently at an early stage but what is clear is that taking better care of clothes and preventing them from wearing out too fast can help reduces the likelihood of microfibres shedding in the wash.

Based on this understanding the first #WhatsInMyWash campaign is encouraging people to:

  1. Choose clothes which are more durable, you’ll get more wears from and which won’t end up in the bin. The UK already sends 300,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill every year (WRAP). Over time this clothing can break down into microplastics which can find their way into eco systems and often our oceans too.
  2. Wash clothes only when needed. Microfibres are released in the wash so if you can get another wear out of something, let it air instead.
  3. Wash clothes at a lower temperature (30 degrees C). This will prevent them from wearing faster which can lead to more microfibre release.
  4. Use a full load and wash on a shorter, gentler cycle; this reduces friction on your clothes which can cause microfibres to shred and clothes to wear.
  5. Avoid the tumble dryer, they may wear your clothes out faster, increasing the likelihood of microfibre release on the next wash. Your clothes will stay in shape for longer too.
  6. If you have a condenser tumble dryer the liquid collected may contain plastic microfibres - don't empty it down the sink.

These simple actions might seem fairly mundane given the scale of the problem, but they are a crucial first step which we can all do now. As more research comes to light, Hubbub is hoping to collaborate with businesses to create other campaigns that can have a bigger structural impact helping to reduce this unlikely source of plastic pollution.

Find out more about microfibres