What gets released?
Synthetic fabrics release microplastics when washed (Hann et al, 2018). This means that every time we wash clothes, sheets or blankets made from man-made fibres, tiny pieces of plastic end up in the water system (Hann et al, 2018). Microplastics are so small that when they enter the food chain, which can cause physical harm to marine wildlife, as well as releasing chemicals into the food chain (Hann et al, 2018). Estimates suggest that from the UK alone, a volume of microplastics equivalent to 12 blue whales is produced every year from washing clothes (Zerr, 2021). On the other hand, natural fibres (such as the cotton we use to create all our products) are biodegradable, so washing them doesn’t harm the environment in the same way as synthetic fibres do (Hass, 2021).
Then there is the problem of chemicals released into the environment through the use of washing detergents. There are numerous chemicals which cause problems (The Better Home Team, 2020). One study highlighted that when released into the water system, detergents can causes excessive amount of plant growth (Paloviita and Järvi, 2008). Known as eutrophication, this causes significant environmental problems. Rapid plant growth on the surface of the water prevents light from reaching plants below the surface, meaning they start to die off, increasing levels of bacteria in the water and reducing levels of oxygen, making it inhabitable for fish (Alistair, nd). Chemicals in detergents can also act to change the delicate natural balance of the water such as temperature, salinity and pH (Mousavi and Khodadoost, 2019).
What can we do to minimise environmental impact?
Turn the temperature down – you could save 100g of CO2e by washing at 40OC rather than 30OC (Berners-Lee and Clark, 2010). Washing synthetic fabrics at a lower temperature can also help reduce the amount of microfibres shed (Zerr, 2021)
- Fill up the machine – waiting until you have a full load helps reduce the amount of water used from machine-washing textiles (In the Wash, 2018). Plus, having a fuller washing machine reduces the amount the clothes inside rub against each other, and so reduces the amount of microfibres shed from synthetic fabrics (Zerr, 2021).
- Change the wash setting you select – Using a cotton wash cycle setting rather than a synthetic wash setting can reduce water used in the wash, as can avoiding extra rinse settings (In the Wash, 2018). Or of course, you could try ditching the washing machine every now and again and washing by hand, to reduce the amount of water used even further, as washing by hand can uses less water than a machine wash (Norfolk natural living, nd; Jeannette, 2016). Khushi Kantha’s Head of Production, Rowsa, takes full advantage of this when preparing the hand-woven, hand-dyed cotton fabric we use to make our rigorously safety-tested Happy Blankets – she washes each piece of fabric we use in our blankets by hand!
- Use a washing line rather than a tumble dryer – It has been suggested that if a home which runs the tumble dryer 200 times in a year switched to use a washing line it would save nearly half a tonne of CO2e (Berners-Lee and Clark, 2010).
- Select your laundry detergent wisely – Certain chemicals in laundry detergents are significantly more environmentally damaging than others (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). However, not all detergents contain these highly damaging ingredients, and there are a number of tried and tested products (Denham and Mccue, 2022; Cooks-Campbell, 2017). Simply swapping your washing products could help reduce the amount of toxins your wash releases into the ocean. Some recommended and more environmental-friendly laundry products include Ecover, Splosh and Seventh Generation (Denham and Mccue, 2022), while parenting website Motherly recommends Dapple detergent and fabric softener by laundry company Attitude (Cooks-Campbell, 2017)
- Use a microfibre catcher in your washing machine – There are a number of products which exist that are designed to catch microfibres in your washing machine, to prevent them entering the water system. If you do need to wash textiles made from synthetic fibres, using a product such as the Guppyfriend washing bag or Cora Ball can limit the amount of microfibres which makes it into the waterways from your washing machine (Zerr, 2021; Okamoto, 2021)
Buy textiles made from natural fibres – most natural fibres are more environmentally friendly than synthetic options, as they do not release microplastics into the water cycle during washing (Krijan, 2022) . Plus, completely natural fibres are 100% biodegradable (Krijan, 2022). Natural fibres also have the advantage of typically being more durable than synthetic counter-parts (Krijan, 2022) – and if your textiles last longer, you won’t have to throw them away so often, reducing what is sent to landfill. Our Happy Blankets are made to last: instilled with the strength of the mothers who create them, we design them to withstand the daily wear-and-tear of life with little ones, and be treasured from child to child .
* The average capacity of a bath, filled to its maximum is 180 litres (Bath Barn, 2019; Harwood & Associates, 2020). However, we don’t all fill the bath right up to its maximum capacity and if running a bath to wash usually uses between 50l and 150l depending on how deep it is (GWM Water, 2018). We have used the mid-point of 100l for our calculations i.e. we divided the 111,750l of water that would have been used to produce fresh cotton, rather than upcycled deadstock fabric from the Bangladeshi garments industry, by 100, to calculate that we have saved the equivalent of 1,118 baths through this aspect of our production process.
** Similarly, 67,050l ÷ 100l = 670.5
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About the Author
Clare started volunteering for Khushi Kantha in June 2021, initially working on calculating the carbon footprint for our first collection of Happy Blankets. Before this, she was studying for an MSc in Climate Change and Development with SOAS University of London, while working in the education sector, which she still does. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, walks with friends and keeping active.