Covid-19 has pushed people to think about health more holistically. We are swapping out jeans and office wear for yoga pants, sweats, and shorts as we work from home during the lockdown, which is good news. However, other than having a healthy body, are you realising that more microplastics microfibres will be released into the waterways as a result?

Activewear is usually made from synthetic materials - mainly polyester, but also nylon, often blended with elastane. Synthetic fibres are preferred due to their strength, durability, and elasticity to promote shape retention. These synthetic fabrics shed large amounts of microfibres into our wastewater systems, and from there into our rivers and oceans. It is estimated that more than 60% of all textiles are made with synthetic materials. Researchers at the University of Plymouth, found that a 6kg wash load could release more than 700,000 microfibres! Since some of these fibres aren’t captured at the wastewater treatment facility due to their size and abnormal shapes, they end up in our oceans. Fabrics washed in detergent, for the first 5 washes, released 41% more microfibre mass than fabrics washed in tap water. The wash and wear use of activewear contributes to plastic microfibres pollution too. The greater water use and longer cycle duration, could all contribute to the increased yield through weakening fibres. Hence, the presence of detergent and increased age increase the release of microfibres. The deposition of microfibres into marine environments provides plastic pollution at a size that readily enters the food chain.

Recycled synthetic fibres made from recycled PET bottles use 35-55% less energy to produce, require zero crude oil feedstock, reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, micro-particles, acid gases, and ozone-depleting gases, saving 34-58% global warming potential. Producing recycled polyester saves more than 2.4 billion bottles annually from landfills in the USA alone and produces 85% less air pollution than conventional production. Reusing resources is great for the environment—generally, the impact on many environmental dimensions is much lower than sourcing new ones. But activewear made from recycled polyester will still release microfibres!

The growing activewear market presents an increasing source of microfibre pollution. Since wastewater treatment plants fail to remove all microfibres due to their tiny size and shapes and while long-term solutions haven’t been found yet, we should take matters into our own hands to reduce (and prevent, if possible) microfibres from entering our wastewater systems while still working out in our favourite comfortable activewear.

In response to this environmental issue, there are a few monofilament laundry washing bags that claim to contain the microfibres released from the clothes in the bag and keep them out of laundry wastewater. Studies suggest that these products reduce microfibre releases to varying degrees. The Ocean Conservancy working with the University of Toronto found the Cora Ball caught 26% of fibres in the machine, and the LINT Luv-R captured 86% of the rest.

The Guppy bag claims to reduce microfibre releases by 90%. The only independent test that has been found suggests it may not be quite as effective as claimed, but works to some extent, so is worth looking into.

The best way to look after your activewear—gentle handwashing—is the best way to reduce microfibre releases. Use a shorter washing cycle at a lower temperature (often marked ‘eco’). More microfibres will be released when the wash takes a longer time.

Exercise with a conscious heart, knowing we are just successfully doing our part in protecting our oceans’ health as well as our own.

Does anyone here prefer water sports instead? 🤭