Natural Fibers Can Rescue Our Drinking Water: Here’s How
Posted on October 03 2017
Whether or not you’re a card-carrying environmentalist, every parent wants a clean, healthy world for their child to grow up in. That sense of responsibility has motivated many of us to give up convenient single-use plastics in favor of reusable shopping bags, cute ceramic travel mugs, and stainless steel water bottles.
We are all doing are best to make a better future for our kids—which is why stories about large scale pollution can be so overwhelming.
Thankfully, there are some forms of dangerous pollution we can do something about without turning full flower child.
First, the bad news: a recent study found that nearly all our tap water is contaminated by microplastic fibers. This isn’t just gross on principle—it may have some very serious consequences for human health.
We don’t yet fully understand the long-term health effects of ingested microplastics, but what we do know so far is concerning: microplastics easily absorb toxic chemicals, including some known to cause cancer, then release those chemical into the digestive tract of any fish or mammal that consumes them.
Once plastic fibers enter the body, it’s not just toxins they leave behind; plastics aren’t biodegradable—they just break down into smaller and smaller particles. Once they are small enough to migrate through intestinal walls, they can permanently set up shop in almost any organ. High concentrations of plastic fiber have already been observed in many marine species, and unless we make some changes, it won’t be long before humans are in the same boat.
Now for the good news.
We can stop this before it gets worse—and just like with our travel mugs and reusable water bottles, it only takes a small change to make a big impact.
North America releases a massive amount of microplastics–the equivalent of 150 plastic shopping bags per person per year—and nearly 35% of that pollution comes straight from the synthetic textiles in your laundry load.
You can minimize the impact of your existing synthetic wardrobe by washing slightly less often, or by using a mesh laundry bag to capture shed fibres, but the real difference comes from making the switch from synthetic to natural fibers.
Natural fibers like cotton, bamboo, and hemp still shed fiber, but unlike synthetics, they are fully biodegradable.
A big driver behind the popularity of synthetic textiles is cost. They are often slightly cheaper than their natural counterparts—but that doesn’t always mean they have the best value. Most natural fibers last longer and breathe better; some even have natural anti-microbial properties that prevent odor-causing bacteria from growing. They can usually be found in classic, versatile pieces that can be worn year-round, instead of the disposable “fast fashion” so common in synthetic textiles. With smart shopping, it’s possible to convert your wardrobe without any dramatic changes to your budget.
Here’s a list of our favorite natural fabrics:
- Organic Cotton
Cotton is the most popular non-synthetic fabric, and no wonder; it’s soft, stretchy, and versatile. Unfortunately, conventional cotton relies on heavy pesticide use and intensive water consumption. We recommend organic cotton for a more sustainable alternative. In addition to being the healthier option, organic cotton clothes last longer before the fibers start to break down—at least 100 washes, compared to only 10-20 washes for non-organic.
Linen is a natural plant-based fabric made from flax. It has the triple advantage of being hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial, and super breathable. New linen is a little stiff and prone to wrinkles, but it becomes delightfully soft with time and wear. It doesn’t hurt that linen fashion is super “in” right now.
Hemp has a similar texture to linen, but requires far less water to grow and process. Its comfortable, durable, and less prone to wrinkles. In fact, hemp is pretty much a super-renewable textile—the only downside is that it can be hard to find, but that’s changing rapidly as designers catch on.
Despite growing in “forests”, bamboo is actually a super tall, fast growing grass. It’s easy to grow without agricultural mainstays like chemicals, fertilizers, or even irrigation, so the growth stage is extremely sustainable. Bamboo cloth processing is a little more resource intensive, but the end result is still much better for the environment than synthetics or non-organic cotton.
You won’t be replacing your entire wardrobe with silk any time soon, but this natural textile is associated with luxury for a reason. It’s absolutely gorgeous, incredibly strong, and breathes much better than synthetic alternatives.
Wool is an animal-protein fiber obtained by sheering sheep, and sometimes refers to similar textiles like cashmere (from goats) and angora (from rabbits). A lot of people associate wool with itchy sweaters, but many varieties are actually incredibly soft.
Choosing to live in natural fibers just makes sense!
by Sara Glasgow