So what is microfiber loss, and why should you be concerned about it when you do laundry? Microfibers are created from synthetic materials like polyester, fleece, and spandex. These fabrics are made from plastics, i.e. oil, so are not biodegradable. That's already a problem for landfill waste, but we'll save that issue for another day. They are also smaller than natural fibers, so these slippery little fellas can find their way into places they should not be.
When you wash your clothes, small amounts of fibers are leached into the water. Higher quality fabrics made from natural materials tend to hold up better in the wash cycle than do the cheaper rayons, nylons, and acrylics. These microfibers break down during washing, and are drained out into the water supply, eventually finding their way into our rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. And the amount of waste is astonishing. Australian researcher Mark Browne found that microfibers make up 85% of human-made debris on the world's shorelines.
To make matters worse, fish ingest these microfibers. So when we eat fish, we are consuming these pollutants. We are literally consuming our clothes!
For more reading on the subject check out this post from the Guardian, this article on Patagonia's site and this update. They have been transparent in addressing the issue and finding solutions.
The good news is that until something can be done by the fabric manufacturers, there is a band-aid fix in the form of the Guppyfriend. Just throw your running shorts, yoga pants, tights, Zara tops into the garment washing bag and wash as normal. The bag allows suds in, but doesn't let microfibers out. After the wash, you simply empty out the microfibers into the trash can, much like emptying the lint trap in the dryer. Yes, the fibers then go to a landfill, but for now that is better than going into our water.
You can buy the Guppyfriend site-direct or at Patagonia.