Plastic Free July: Clothing
Sustainable Living

Plastic Free July: Plastic In Our Clothing

Take a peek into your closet – have you ever stopped to think about the plastic that might be hiding in your wardrobe? What are most of your clothes made of — are they synthetic or natural fibers? Do they have an elastic waistband or stretch material? Do they have plastic snaps, buttons, or zippers? It turns out there is a surprising amount of plastic in our clothes and it has a potentially larger impact on the environment than even straws or other single use plastics!

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Source: Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Types of Fabric

How often do you look at the fibre content in the label on your clothes? I grew up buying fabric and sewing and realized early on that I didn’t like the feel of polyester or acrylic, but rather gravitated to wool and cotton. However, sometimes it’s not that easy! The garments we purchase are often a mix of materials, and it can be hard to know what the names on the label mean. Below is a list of widely available materials that are often found in our clothing:

  • Natural fibres: such as cotton, wool, and silk degrade over time and will, in time, compost back into base materials
  • Rayon: generally made of some sort of processed plant material and is known as the first man-made fibre
  • Nylon: underlying material is petroleum and is non-biodegradable, and requires a lot of energy to produce
  • Polyester: same material as plastic bottles, the underlying material is petroleum
  • Elastane: made of polyester and polyurethane, and is non-biodegradeable
  • Acrylic: key ingredient is a carcinogen and is not readily biodegradeable


How Plastic in Our Clothing Impacts the Environment

Many studies have now documented that, whenever we do laundry, plastic particles are released from our synthetic fibre clothing. Some of these fibres are captured in wastewater plants however many make it through these processes. The graph below gives an idea of how many fibres can be released in one load of wash:


Shockingly, these small plastic fibres have made it all around the globe, permeating every environment and entering our food chain.

Seemingly, wherever scientists look, they’re finding plastic fibers contaminating the environment. Often, plastic textile fibers are the dominant source of plastic pollution found in surveys. Plastic fibers have been found in the sediment surrounding beaches, in mangrove groves, and in Arctic ice — even in products we eat and drink. “The average person ingests over 5,800 particles of synthetic debris” a year, a recent paper in PLOS finds. And most of those particles are plastic fibers.

Things You Can Do to Reduce Plastic Impacts from Clothing

Fortunately there are many simple and budget-friendly actions we can take to reduce the impact of plastic in our clothing!

  • Change up your laundry routine
  • Shop second-hand – take part in #SecondHandSeptember
  • Buy fewer clothes
  • Buy clothing with natural fibres — however this can be expensive, or, particularly in the case of cotton, potentially damaging to the environment due to how water-intensive it is to farm
  • Spring for eco-friendly brands as budget allows
  • Read our past posts on sustainable clothing brands to learn about some inspiring design innovators!

How to you bring sustainability into your wardrobe?

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  • Karalee

    I haven’t thought about how plastic fibers are released from clothing when doing laundry.
    These are great suggestios on how we can reduce the imact of plastic in clothing & I’m all for buying less clothes & buying secondhand!

  • Jaya Avendel

    Polyester sneaks into practically everything these days! I remember when I could tell by the feel of a thing if it was cotton; now I check labels to see if 10% polyester is sneaking in. I cannot stand how unbreathable it is but I notice so many people wearing it, especially kids.

    In addition to cotton, silk, and wool, linen is also a cloth I love.
    Thank you for sharing some important ways we can lessen the impact of dressing ourselves has on the environment! Shopping second hand brings me great pleasure. 🙂

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      I love the look of linen items! Do you find it easy to care for?
      I get great joy from shopping second hand too 🙂

    • Ruth| Ruthiee loves Glamour

      To be honest, I have never thought about how plastic fibers are released from clothing during laundry. It’s crazy how much effect our choice of clothing can have. I personally, have been trying to be as sustainable as possible and I have been eliminating plastic from everything from skincare products to clothes and everything in general. Thank you for sharing.

  • Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)

    The environmental impact of our fashion choices is scary. I rarely buy clothing these days and I wear my clothes until they are worn out. These fast fashion companies need to be held accountable for the waste they produce, and their “so called” clothing recycling programs that are just an excuse to get you to buy more clothing from them just don’t cut it.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      I so agree! The greenwashing fast fashion brands do is so frustrating. I’m glad there are movements starting to hold them accountable. I hope the industry changes soon.

  • Jodie | That Happy Reader

    I had no idea how many environmentally unfriendly clothing fabrics there are! Your post is extremely enlightening and will encourage me to change the way I shop. Thanks for sharing.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks Jodie! We were so surprised too when we were looking into it. Plastic seems to be everywhere!

  • CristinaR

    Honestly the numbers on plastic in clothing is incredible and truly scary! The more you read the more things you get to find out. really hope that brands can bring sustainable clothing for everyone in the future as it would help make the switch!

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      It really is scary! I hope that sustainable clothing will become more accessible and affordable too

  • Ruth| Ruthiee loves Glamour

    To be honest, I have never thought about how plastic fibers are released from clothing during laundry. It’s crazy how much effect our choice of clothing can have. I personally, have been trying to be as sustainable as possible and I have been eliminating plastic from everything from skincare products to clothes and everything in general. Thank you for sharing.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks, Ruth!
      That’s amazing you’ve been so proactive in eliminating plastic from your life!

    • Fayne Soida

      I remember seeing something on just how many clothes are trashed wasted but didn’t know the extent. I definitely didn’t think it potentially has a larger impact on the environment than straws and other plastics!
      Also… polyester??

      Thank you for the informative post xx

      • A Sustainably Simple Life

        The info is quite shocking isn’t it?! Fashion is quite a shocking industry overall once you start looking at it.

        Thank you 🙂

  • crystalsandcurls

    Oh goodness, I didn’t even consider plastic in clothing before! I’ve been making an effort to buy sustainable fashion for the past year, but I’ll keep an eye on the material too. Thanks for the informative post! x

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks! That’s so fantastic you’ve been aware of sustainable fashion. Not everyone knows about the issues!

  • Vanessa

    This is very interesting and a much-needed topic to discuss. I don’t think we consider our clothes and what they are made of enough. Thank you for raising awareness to this and for explaining so well what we should be reflecting on when either buying clothes or washing them. I do think there are also correlates between plastic-based clothes and human health, so there are only good reasons to give this some more thought.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thank you so much Vanessa. There really is so much to learn and explore with this topic. It can be a bit of a rabbit hole to go down with learning! Reflecting and making progress towards changes/taking small steps is important for our and our planets health 🙂

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

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