Tis the season for wearing and covering up with (polyester) fleece— pullovers, jackets, vests, coats, hats, blankets. It’s warm, soft and plush, lightweight, durable, water resistant, and fast drying. When it’s cold, we love our fleece! Unfortunately, fleece is a bad guy when it comes to microplastic water pollution. Every time it’s tumbled and tossed in the washing machine, its soft plastic microfibers sluff off into particles no bigger than 3/16 of an inch—too small to be trapped by machine filters and downstream, through the water reclamation process. It’s resting spot? Rivers, lakes and oceans where the microplastic particles are easily ingested by aquatic organisms. All fabrics shed microfibers in the washing machine, but plastic polyesters shed non-biodegradable ones, and when it comes to the numbers, fleece is the champion. It sheds about 100 times more than the same amount of other polyester fabric. And it’s because polyester is the dominant fiber now, that all this microplastic water pollution is the huge and dangerous problem it is.
Are consumers, especially we Americans, washing our fleece when it isn’t dirty? Do we over-wash because it’s easy and we think “it” must be dirty? Here are some earth-friendly fleece care tips. Fleece is made to be durable; hang on to the fleece you have! Take care of each item. Before washing, consider: Does it smell? Fabric that doesn’t hug your skin, doesn’t collect odor like fabrics that do. Hang fleece items loosely so air circulates through and around the fibers. Brush off surface dirt and smudges. If there’s a stain, try spot cleaning it. The less you launder your fleece, the longer its fibers will stay intact. Donate, consign and buy secondhand fleece items. Also, remember by caring for and keeping fleece in use, we are keeping plastic waste out of the landfill.
By Bev Harrison