Microplastics: Too Small to Detect, Big Enough to Damage


Pollution has spread its tentacles and caught every aspect of life in its chokehold. From the food you eat to the clothes you wear, there is something environmentally sinister lurking. Pollution only sometimes manifests itself as big and bad. It conceals itself in supposedly innocuous activities like shopping and objects like clothing. Katy Perry sang about a plastic bag drifting through the wind. That was big enough to catch, but some humans walk around wearing plastic. Yes, you heard that right. 

Now, what is microplastic? Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic less than 5 mm. Over the last 40 years, the concentration of microplastics has shot up. They are present in water bodies, salt, and the digestive tracts of birds and fish. Even synthetic clothes contain these tiny plastics that cause big problems.

Clothing is an indispensable part of one’s lifestyle and civil society. Everyone wants to make environmentally conscious choices in the above areas. How does one ensure they are not walking environmental hazards because of ill-chosen garments? Here’s how you buy clothing that will flatter you and honour the earth you live on.

Choose Natural Fibres Over Synthetics

In a world with 8 billion people, there are more than 8 billion sets of clothes. The World Resources Institute has calculated that there are 20 clothing sets produced per person annually. Eight million plastic pieces enter the ocean daily, while 12 million tonnes pollute it annually. Between 200,000 to 500,000 tonnes are microplastics. While cotton clothing has a special place in everyone’s hearts and wardrobes, there is still a concerning amount of clothing made from market-leading synthetic fibres, such as polyester, nylon, rayon, and acrylic. 

While cotton and garment manufacturing are water-intensive, polyester and garment manufacturing are carbon-intensive. One polyester shirt has a 5.5 kg carbon footprint compared to its cotton counterpart, with a 4.3 kg carbon footprint.

Forego Fast Fashion

Fast food is produced quickly and at low costs but negatively impacts the health of its consumers due to artificial ingredients and an abundance of chemicals. Similarly, fast fashion involves rapidly producing large quantities of cheap clothes at dusk-cheap prices. Synthetic clothing deteriorates the health of the environment just as fast food affects human health. Microplastics from production houses and discarded clothing find their way into seas and oceans and end up in the stomachs of marine life or your table salt.

When shopping for clothes, consult the label (inside the collar, waistband, or along the inner side seam). The label indicates the composition of the material in percentages, along with maintenance instructions in the form of symbols. Opt for items that are 100% organic cotton. There are several new-age boutiques marketing “sustainable” clothes. However, it’s easy to get brainwashed with greenwashing. Instead of falling for buzzwords like sustainable, eco-friendly, guilt-free, and environmentally conscious, enquire about what exactly qualifies the clothing.

Furthermore, when you invest in clothing made from natural fibres, use them for a long time because manufacturing cotton clothing also involves large quantities of water.

Wrapping Up

Synthetic clothing is transient, but its effects are lasting. They make people look good and feel good, but they are not good for the earth. One can dismissively ask, “What is microplastic going to do to anyone?” Well, a 0.1 μm virus took 6.5 million lives. There’s no underestimating the havoc little things like microplastics can wreak.