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Fleece clothing major contributor of microplastics in water

Posted by in Nature on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Every time it's washed, technical outdoor clothing such as fleece are contributing to the levels of microplastics in water, a new study finds.

When you put on your favourite fleece jacket, you probably never think about how it could be contributing to marine pollution.

Every time the garment is washed, about 2,000 fibres end up in the wastewater that’s produced. And because many sewage plants cannot filter these fibres, they become part of an increasingly serious microplastic pollution problem that’s affecting marine wildlife around the globe.

In Norway, for instance, it was recently reported that scientists from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research had determined that outdoor clothing such as fleece jackets was the biggest source of the more than 100 million particles of microplastic being deposited via wastewater into the fiord at Longyearbyen, a community of 2,000 on the island of Svalbard.

Similar studies have been conducted in Canada at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“There have been very clear impacts on the wildlife,” said Peter Ross, director of the aquarium’s ocean pollution research program. “Microplastics have been known to affect the feeding, fitness, reproductive system and the growth of animals.”

In 2015, Ross and his team released a study that showed microplastics were widely distributed in British Columbia’s coastal waters, and that the tiny pieces of plastic less than five millimetres in size had entered the marine food chain through zooplankton, a vital source of food for fish and other marine mammal species.

The study took place in four major areas: the Strait of Georgia; the west coast of Vancouver Island; the north coast of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii; and offshore in the Pacific Ocean. The highest concentrations of microplastic were found in the Strait of Georgia.

“This basically told us that humans living in coastal environments are releasing thousands of microplastics through their laundry and waste water,” said Ross. “The problem is world-wide from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and it’s far more extensive than we imagined.”

Related: Plastic to outweigh all of the fish in the ocean by 2050

  Comments (30)

I don't get it. Fleece and Gore-tex are very different fabrics. Isn't fleece mostly made from recycled pop bottles nowadays? Are you saying that bits of the fleece fabric break off in the wash? Where is the link to the actual study? Sounds unlikely, but if so, I will be changing my buying habits fast.
And what about Gore-tex? Hard to imagine that particles of those jackets would come off in the wash. How does it happen?
Or are you talking about the waterproofing sprays that people add to these clothes?
Please enlighten me. There is a lack of clarity in this article. Hard to choose an environmentally positive path based on what's said.

Submitted by Pat on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Same from me. Never heard this one before. Why?

Submitted by Jon on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I bought a waterproof jacket from a reputable outdoor clothing store 3 years ago,paid a good price for it and though it would last long, but after 2 years the inner waterproof lining started peeling off.So I can imagine gore tex being a problem.

Submitted by Maddie on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

This is a helpful article from National Geographic about micro plastics which also mentions fibres in washing machine wastewater. It has some suggestions for action including a link to a filter for washing machines:

Submitted by Anne on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Here's a study about it

Submitted by TJ on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The North Coast of Vancouver Island? The West Coast of Vancover Island. Why not from a place where there is a large population? Of course there's more in Georgia Strait. It's a more populated area. How many other products have micro beads? Check any personal cleaning product. Toothpaste and favial cleaners are full of them. How can it be told which come from where? I'm rwadung this with more than a little scepticism.

Submitted by Barbara on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I was completely unaware of this, but it makes perfect sense. Think about how much lint is in the lint trap after each load of laundry goes through the dryer. Some lint also goes into the wash and rinse water from the washing machine, and there is no lint trap there. It goes into the sewer. The lint from synthetic clothing is included. Fleece is made from plastic. So of course plastic particle are going into the waste water. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to me before.

Submitted by Kelly on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I have a 25 year old fleece jacket, and in many areas the fuzz is gone, all that remains is the base weave. So 10 or 20% of my coat has disappeared, mostly into my septic tank but much of it into the Georgia strait.

Submitted by Bryan. on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Studies on the effects of plastic on "fitness, reproductive system..." dating back twenty years or more showed changes in "reproductive" ability of fish and reptiles,and mamals, in that it causes sexual confusion and hermaphroditism, or an animal having both male and female sex organs or sexual characteristics. The implications to humans are obvious and were it widely known what do you think it would do to the plastics industry ?That's why you haven't heard about it.

Submitted by Diane on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Here is the link to the Ross article:

Submitted by Ann Nightingale on Thursday, March 31, 2016

So maybe it's not wonderful for the environment that we are making fleece garments out of recycled pop bottles?

Submitted by A. J. on Thursday, March 31, 2016

@Pat & @Jon

the above "recently reported" link might help answer some of your questions (

Submitted by ylt202 on Thursday, March 31, 2016

It seems that the Gore-tex is just a reference to other types of outdoor clothing if you look at the article linked above [not a scientific article]. I guess the practical steps we can take are to reduce the use of plastic bottles in order to avoid the need to make fleece products, and minimise washing of any fleece articles we own; especially in an area where waste water goes out to sea/lakes.

Submitted by Adele on Thursday, March 31, 2016

We're hearing about it now - we're talking about microscopic fibers here so it makes sense. Also fleece made from recycled pop bottles is plastic so no sure why that's a source of confusion! Fabrics get their characteristics from the way they are woven or knitted in addition to the fibers they are made from as well as the way the finished fabrics are treated (chemicals and color dyes). So you can have a much different hand feel from different fabrics constructed from similar fibers by weaving/knitting them in different manners and their post production treatments

Submitted by Drew on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Could part of this issue be that all wastewater needs to be filtered and cleaned before heading back into a source of water? Are the fibres captured in the sewage wastewater systems in most cities?

Submitted by Annette on Thursday, March 31, 2016

This is just one of a long list of polluting effects of clothing. Polluting the environment, polluting your body.

Submitted by extramileclothing on Thursday, March 31, 2016

More on this issue here:

Submitted by yvette on Friday, April 1, 2016

Micro plastics are a curse and getting into the food chain. All the 8 or more whales washed up on the English shore a few weeks ago starved to death as their stomachs were full of plastic debris. And the microorganisms are being 'choked' by fleece particles in the same way. Fake fur is just as bad a fleece. Natural fibres break down and are renewable: cotton, wool, linen, leather, fur. They are historically sound and will rot naturally.

Submitted by Roni on Friday, April 1, 2016

Try Merino Fleece as an alternative to synthetic(plastic) fleece. It's biodegradable and pleasant to wear

Submitted by Bob on Friday, April 1, 2016

I work in a clothing store, receiving merchandise daily. I am appalled that every single vendor who we buy apparel from, wraps each garment in a thick plastic bag. We are 1 store and generate massive plastic waste. It boggles the mind to think about the amount generated worldwide. And for what?

Submitted by Nan Vale on Friday, April 1, 2016

There are linked but separate issues at play here. Microfibres and microbeads getting into the food chain is one aspect. Another is hazardous PFCs (poly- and per-fluorinated compounds) which are used to waterproof outdoor clothing (like Gore-Tex).Some of these are carcinogenic and/or hormone disrupting, and have been discovered in the remotest parts of the world, where they enter the marine and eventually mammal food chains. Recent Greenpeace report at, which has triggered an ongoing Greenpeace international campaign for manufacturers to switch to safer alternatives. Greenpeace are also calling for products with microbeads to be banned from shop shelves. Includes things like toothpaste.....

Submitted by Neil P on Saturday, April 2, 2016

perhaps not washing them as often, using front loaders which are not as tough, filter on wAshing machine. using animals yo provide fibre just shifys to a different concern. maybe more development for plant fibre clothes ?

Submitted by filter for machine on Sunday, April 3, 2016

Wow! Never considered what was coming off our clothing could be doing so much damage! It makes sense though considering the amount of lint that the dryers are catching that that much is also ending up in our water supply. Another good reason to stick with cotton.

Submitted by Janet on Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gore -Tex is a brand name for PFC water repellent fabric (perfluorinated compounds) and is a cousin of Teflon. It is persistent in the environment and causes many human health concerns, such as birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruption and high cholesterol (after Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie [2009], ref. to Danish Environmental Protection, Survey of Chemical Substances in Consumer Products,2008)

Submitted by Julia on Sunday, April 3, 2016

So the solution to the problem is to have a filtering system installed on washing machines out with the old in with the new rather then focus on the problem look for needed solutions!

Submitted by Solutions on Monday, April 4, 2016

High quality factory-made wool socks can have their useful lives doubled or tripled with a simple, quick effort at darning. Darning can be done during quiet conversations, long car rides, in waiting rooms, or any time you don't have your eyes intently focused on a critical task. Mending or crewel wool can even be purchased for next to nothing at thrift stores, and a set of darning needles can be purchased for less than $2 at most craft or sewing stores. Wool sweaters and trousers can be darned, as well.

Submitted by Hovawart on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

This is why renewable natural resources like fur, wool, and goose down are much more ecologically sound choices. They are also biodegradable.

Submitted by M.A. Schmitt on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It is unfortunately true folks. Firstly, their is growing evidence to suggest that various membranes can degrade. Secondly, and more importantly,fleece is increasingly made from recycled pet and it does essentially fragment over time and end up in the aquatic and marine environment; this is now well dcumented. so mch so that this year Loblaws allocated some of their grant funding to study the issue here. In broad strokes, because it is a problem in urban areas there is a plume associated with the water discharge into adjacent water features. Current water treatment plants are not designed to capture these microparticles. For a more comprehensive look at multiple info sources vist the FB page Friends of the St Lawrence River

Submitted by Christopher Baker on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Plastic Soup Foundation (Amsterdam) is working on this, and there are some things consumers can do already to help:
They also have a U.S. Facebook page in English:

Submitted by Jen on Thursday, April 7, 2016

The solution is obvious-get real. Real leather, real fur, real natural fibers. Nothing is better than nature. The only people skinning animals alive are PETA and other animal rights groups who've been convicted of this:

Submitted by KaD on Saturday, April 16, 2016

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