Shedding Responsibility: The Microfiber Epidemic
A few days ago, The Story of Stuff Project was in Sacramento to testify on our bill addressing the problem of microfiber pollution – tiny particles of plastic shed from synthetic fabrics when we machine-wash our clothes. Just as we did with our campaign to tackle microbeads, we are taking a legislative approach to begin to address the problem of microfiber pollution. This bill is an important first step to raise awareness of the problem of plastic microfiber pollution and to hold companies accountable for the waste their products create.
Despite knowing about this problem for nearly a decade, clothing manufacturers and retailers have been slow to respond. Even some of the more environmentally-oriented companies haven’t done anything to mitigate their products’ effect on the environment. Instead, they’ve assembled ‘working groups’ in an attempt to determine which fabrics shed and how much. Instead of taking proactive measures to redesign or innovate on the fabrics they use, they’re largely focusing on quantifying just how big their contribution to the problem is.
Microfibers from synthetic fabrics (which are often also treated with chemicals) are everywhere in our world: in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. With 60% of clothing made from synthetic fabrics or blends, microfibers are now the most prolific source of plastic pollution by count in our watersheds. The small size of these fibers means that even the smallest organisms at the very base of the food chain can consume them. From there, these fibers bioaccumulate up the food chain; new studies show that 99% of fish from The Great Lakes have fibers in their gut. These plastic fibers also stay in the environment for a very, very long time. Altogether, it’s a very troubling picture.
Luckily, we have some good news to report from our work in Sacramento: our bill passed its first committee hearing! That brings us one step closer to holding industry accountable. Unfortunately, opposition trade groups like The American Chemistry Council and California Fashion Association is mounting. Interestingly, no individual clothing brand has come out in opposition to the bill. We suspect that they’re using trade groups for cover to avoid the bad optics of opposing a bill that simply warns citizens about a problematic product.
We’re tired of companies buying time with study after study, while dragging their feet on real action to address the problem. While we’re sympathetic (to a degree) to the fact that finding and executing a solution to this issue will be challenging and expensive, we don’t believe that there is any reason that companies shouldn’t disclose, at the very least, that washing their products releases this form of pollution.
That’s why we need you to help us push brands to do the right thing! While we continue our work to pass our bill in California, help us hold companies accountable by adding your name to this petition. And of course, stay tuned for more updates about this important work!