Planet vs. Plastics
On Wednesdays We Wear Plastics
October 3, 2023
“Beware of The Plastics” is a warning not only for Cady Heron in her first days at North Shore High School, but for parents dressing their babies. Switch out the names Regina George, Karen Smith, and Gretchen Wieners for microfibers, shedding, and chemical leaching and you have The microPlastics.
Microplastics Are Not Fetch
Microplastics exist in all aspects of our lives. Babies are exposed to them in sugar, feeding bottles, formula and breastmilk, clothing, and toys which causes microplastics to wind up in their poop. Dirty diapers have an average of 36,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), known as polyester when used in clothing, per gram of feces. This is 10 times the amount found in adult feces.
The transmission of microplastics into a child can be through placental transfer, inhalation, breastfeeding, dermal exposure, and oral intake. Microplastics, due to their composition and leachable additives, can readily disperse and contaminate environments. They can wreak havoc on growth, development, and reproduction in a wide range of organisms.
Overconsumption, Pollution, & an Overly Hasty Solution
35% of microplastic pollution (in the form of synthetic microfibers) in the world’s oceans can be attributed to textiles. Polyester is the most widely-used clothing fabric and its plastic composition is a problem. The wrinkle resistance and durability features coupled with its low price are the reasons why the material has become so prevalent in our wardrobes.
Babies favor their hands and mouths as exploratory tools. The normal habit of young children to chew and suck their clothes puts this age group at a greater risk of exposure to microplastics in textiles.
Parenting blogs tout natural fabrics as an alternative to polyester but fail to inform readers about the chemical additives. Chemicals are added to fabrics for stain resistance and fire retardancy whether they are made of synthetic or natural materials. When natural fabrics are treated, they lose their ability to biodegrade in the ocean and the microfibers they shed, like synthetics, carry those toxic chemicals along with them. For non-toxic clothing, parents can look for reliable labels such as Oeko-Tex and Bluesign as assurances of chemical safety.
Solutions to Shedding
Fast fashion in the baby clothes aisles can be explained away by how swiftly babies grow but parents can be more conscious consumers. Machine washing clothes releases a staggering amount of microplastics, with the highest amount of shedding occuring in the first five to ten washes. In an ideal world, everyone would wear their clothes more than five to ten times but babies may not have that chance.
No matter what a baby wears, there will be shedding of either synthetic or natural microfibers coated with chemicals. To stop the shedding, parents can consider not purchasing new clothes for every size.
Hand-me-downs and resale shops are tried and true methods to reduce costs. Clothing rental companies have become popular for all price points and now all sizes. Rental companies allow you to outfit your babies in gently used clothes that have most likely been washed in those first five to ten microfiber heavy loads. Microplastics are omnipresent but parents have the ability to curb their children’s exposure.
Conscious consumption is so fetch. We can have Fashion for the Earth and focus on healthy and socially responsible garments. Also, learn more about EARTHDAY.ORG’s campaign, Planet vs. Plastics, and our goal to reduce plastic production by 60% by 2040.