Andrea Arria-Devoe, a longtime editor at Daily Candy, is the executive producer of Straws, a documentary about how ditching plastic straws can make a massive difference to the environment. In her column for goop, Arria-Devoe shares her extensive knowledge about the best countertop composter, how to shop bulk, and other hacks for living the chicest, greenest life possible.
I was fourteen when I discovered Spandex. Wearing a swath of stretchy fabric that barely passed as a skirt—according to my prep school’s dress code—felt radical. (I blame it on Robert Palmer.) Although elastane was invented in 1958, it didn’t have its fashion coming-out party until the late ’80s.
Today, it is estimated that 60 percent of the material used in clothing is synthetic. And this poses a problem—or rather, millions of little problems: microfibers. Microfibers are tiny pieces of plastic that wash off of clothing and flow down the drain into our water systems.
There are about 89 million washing machines doing an average of nine loads of laundry per week in the United States alone, according to the Story of Stuff. Each load can release 1,900 to 200,000 microfibers. Wastewater systems catch a large portion of the fibers during the sewage process, but the solids in which those fibers are captured are often used as fertilizer. That means the tiny pieces of plastic are making their way into the soil and inevitably the ocean and our bodies.
So what’s the solution? For starters, you can choose natural materials, like silk, linen, and wool; wash your clothing on the cold-water setting and less often (heat causes clothing to break down more quickly); and make sure your washing machine is filled up all the way. This helps reduce friction between clothes, which can cause the fibers to break off.
Investing in a washing machine filter also greatly reduces the number of microfibers escaping into the sewer. In Europe, companies like Arçelik will begin selling washing machines with built-in filtration systems designed to capture the tiny plastic particles and other nonbiodegradable lint starting in 2020. They’ll also be making the technology available to competitors in an effort to save the planet. In the interim, there are several filter options you can start using now.
XFiltra and Lint LUV-R
This high-performing filter catches 99 percent of the microfibers generated in every load with a stainless steel screen. Once it’s installed, clean it every three weeks. The system also dries out the filtered material, which makes it easy to remove the lint.
This UK-based company offers a return-and-reuse subscription program for proper recycling of its filter cartridges. The cartridges can be used with commercial washing machines, and they connect directly to the drain. They need to be replaced every twenty cycles.
Made in Minnesota, this inline filter attaches to your existing washing machine hose and works with all residential washing machines. Clean it out every three weeks and dispose of fibers in the trash.
Throw all your synthetic clothing into this mesh bag every time you do a load, then remove the fibers every three cycles. Patagonia sells these on its website to collect the shedding of its popular recycled polyester fleeces.
Designed like an actual piece of coral, this plastic ball captures microplastic fuzz so you can see it and toss it immediately. Leave the plastic ball in the washing machine and remove the lint by hand. (Be careful not to use it with lacy underwear because it will snag.)