Washing your clothes is damaging the oceans - here’s how you can change that

After securing a ban on microbeads, MP Rebecca Pow has moved on to microfibres – tiny pieces of plastic that end up in the sea every time we put a wash on

Words by Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane

Leaving the environment better than we found it is one of the biggest issues we face and I’ve made it a priority in Parliament.

I was delighted to be involved in bringing about the ban on microplastics and microbeads in cosmetics and care products. These minuscule plastic beads, used in face washes, shower gels, shampoos and much make up, were washing down the drain and causing untold devastation in the marine habitat. Bringing about the ban on their inclusion is a positive move, but microbeads only represent 2% of plastic pollution.

Encouraged by the public response, I am focusing on reducing another kind of plastic pollution - microfibres. These are much smaller than microbeads (less than 5mm) and exude from our clothes every time we wash them. A worrying 9.4 trillion fibres disappear down the plug hole from the nation’s 68 million weekly loads of washing. Few washing machines can filter the fibres out so they are ending up in our precious oceans, having been captured in sewage sludge, and are spread onto our land (plastic fertiliser!)

Working with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, I have promoted their ‘End Plastic Soup’ campaign and have run a number of events in Parliament to highlight the issue including bringing together specialists from the fashion industry, academics, the water industry and the washing machine industry to come up with some solutions that might influence Government policy. I believe we need a mix of voluntary action and legislation to bring about real change.

If you want to make a difference individually in terms of reducing microfibres and wider issues around washing clothes, there are many things that can help: wash less frequently – only when clothes really need it. How often do you wash something that has only been worn once? Use full loads which means less friction between clothes with fewer microfibres being displaced. And wash at lower temperatures, 30 degrees means fewer CO2 emissions (with less impact on climate change.) Using an eco-washing power and no fabric conditioner will also mean less chemicals are entering our water courses. If you can ask washing machine manufacturers whether they are investing in filters that will collect microfibres that could also bring about change.

On a wider note, your clothes buying choices will make a difference: synthetic fabrics tend to exude more microfibres than natural fabrics; buy fewer items and make them last longer so that less go to landfill. (Every second, one rubbish truck of textiles is dumped or burned, the latter exacerbating global warming.) Finally, ask your favourite high street store or clothes brand what they are doing to tackle the amount of microplastic fibres released, and let them know that this is something you are concerned about!

The leading destination for fashion, beauty, shopping and finger-on-the-pulse views on the latest issues. Marie Claire's travel content helps you delight in discovering new destinations around the globe, offering a unique – and sometimes unchartered – travel experience. From new hotel openings to the destinations tipped to take over our travel calendars, this iconic name has it covered.