Have you ever thought about the clothes you buy and wear? Do you ever wonder where they are made or what materials were used to make them? It turns out that what we wear impacts the planet.
A very common material that is used to make most of our clothing comes from something called microfibers. You have probably heard of, seen, or used microfiber products. These days they are everywhere!
And believe it or not, microfiber clothes are plastic.
Fleece is probably the most popular example of microfiber. You might have a fleece jacket, pants, or blanket. Microfibers are also used in cleaning products, like as towels and mop pads.
The synthetic fibers in fleece are made from polyester plastic, instead of, say, a fluffy sheep’s coat.
Sometimes fleece can even be made from recycled plastics, like water bottles. Although this may appear to be a good thing, it is not a solution to our plastics problem. Little fibers come off of the fleece when you wash it. Then there are tiny, microscopic pieces of plastic litter in our water! They are very hard to remove.
Because plastic can’t decompose, eventually that microfiber clothing will end up in a landfill.
The challenges of plastic
Plastics are made from fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. We get these resources by digging or blowing up the earth. Then, the oil and gas are turned into plastics at “cracker plants.” There are several of these being built along the Ohio River Valley. All of these processes can pollute the water, air and soil.
Single-use plastics are one of the most difficult products of this process. Most plastic products end up as litter in our water or in landfills, because plastic never decomposes.
We could use more natural materials that decompose when we are done with them. Instead of littering water or landfills forever, they turn back into soil. These kinds of products are called biodegradeble.
Choosing Natural Fibers
Unlike microfibers, natural fibers have many benefits. They feel breathable, soft, lightweight and warm. They are create less pollution, and they are biodegradable.
When you can no longer wear or repair natural clothing, it can break down safely. You are completing the circle of returning it to the earth, instead of making trash.
Natural fibers can come from plants or animals. Here are some examples.
Fibers from plants
You can even get fibers from wild plants right here in Ohio. In this video, Madison shows how to make rope out of a plant called dogbane:
Fibers from animals
Alpaca wool is similar to sheep’s wool, but from South America:
Silkworms are little caterpillars, and silk is made from their cocoons!:
Dogs! (Some people really knit with their pet’s hair!):
Slowing down fashion
How long do you hold on to clothes before throwing them away?
“Fast fashion” is when companies make clothes quickly and cheaply, to keep up with always-changing fashion trends. The clothes are cheap, trendy, and often fall apart easily. Fast fashion encourages people to throw away clothes as soon as fashion trends change. All the resources and pollution that went into those clothes are quickly tossed in the garbage.
As a whole, the fast fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world!
One way to create less waste is to slow fashion down. Only buy clothes that you think you’ll wear for a long time. Repair and patch clothes when they rip, instead of throwing them away.
Your turn: Repair and upcycle your clothes
Have you ever been bummed out when you realize one day your most favorite shirt or pair of jeans have a hole or they are so worn out you just can’t wear it anymore?? Maybe you thought or wished that somehow you could repurpose (or upcycle) it into something new?
Something like this happened to me! One time I had a favorite wool sweater for many years. I wore it every day in the cold winter months. And then one day I found a big hole in the sleeve on the elbow, as well as a section on the back that was starting to unravel. I knew I could no longer wear it.
So I decided to shrink my sweater in the washing machine. 100% natural wool will felt and shrink when you put it in a washing machine with hot soapy water. When my sweater was done washing, I successfully had turned my sweater into a thick wool felt.
Next, I used the felt to make myself something new. I cut the felt up and sewed the pieces into a little bag!
Here’s another example of a way to use old wool sweaters:
Another useful skills is learning how to patch your clothes. Here are some tutorials to start mending clothes by hand:
Upcycling and mending are great ways to keep old clothes out of the landfill and help close the waste stream loop!
For more ideas on how to reuse old clothes, check out this WikiHow article.