Microplastic particles are now found in all water systems across the world. 0.6-1.7 million tons of microfibers released into ocean every year. and a whopping 35% of microplastics in the marine environment are from synthetic clothing.
Sadly, 44% of people don’t realize that their clothes are made from plastic material. Polyester and nylon release microplastics but cotton and linen clothing don’t. Do Tencel clothing produce microplastics?
Tencel lyocell is not plastic and does not release microplastics into the environment when used or washed. However, it produces cellulosic microfibers which end up in our waterways as well.
Read on to find out more:
Does Tencel contain microplastics?
Tencel is a semi-synthetic fiber that is sustainably sourced from botanics – namely birch (modal) and eucalyptus (lyocell). The manufacturing process is similar to synthetic fibers where the raw material is pelletized and run through spinnerets to produce the end product. However, unlike synthetic fibers, Tencel doesn’t contain any plastics or microplastics.
This is because the raw material is plant-based. Only synthetic material like polyester, acrylic and nylon that are made from petrol-chemicals contain plastics.
However, sometimes Tencel fabric do release microplastics. When Tencel fibers are blended with any synthetic fibers, even if it is 1% elastane, the fabric will produce microplastics when it is washed.
Microplastics and microfiber
Microplastics, as the name implies, are small pieces of plastic (less than 0.2 inches in length).
Microfiber on the other hand, is an umbrella term for any hair-like strand that has a diameter of less than 10 micrometers.
We used to think of microfiber and microplastic as the same thing based on the assumption that microfiber pollution is largely from synthetic fabrics.
However, microfiber can also be cellulosic or animal in origin.
Cellulosic microfiber are released by fabrics like Tencel, bamboo and cotton while animal-origin microfiber are released by wool.
Synthetic microfiber (microplastics) can take up to 200 years to breakdown and absorb toxins, harming our oceans for the long term.
Cellulosic and animal microfiber on the other hand, biodegrade.
Both microplastics and microfibers are almost invisible to the naked eye.
Which fabrics release microplastics?
All fabrics that contain synthetic fibers release microplastics. Some examples are:
- nylon (read Tencel vs nylon: Which is the best choice?)
- polyester fleece
Even more eco-friendly synthetic fibers like recycled polyester and recycled nylon produce microplastics when washed.
The North Face Mossbud Insulated Reversible Parka is made of 70% recycled polyester insulation:
What clothes have no microplastics?
Every day people are making the switch to natural fabrics that don’t release microplastics. These fabrics are made of natural materials such as Tencel, bamboo, cotton, linen, silk, wool, and hemp.
Does this mean we should all stop wearing and using any synthetic fabric and only wear natural fabric?
Not so fast. Even though fabric made from natural fiber don’t release microplastics, they release lots of microfibers.
Interestingly, even though synthetic fibers still account for two-thirds of global fiber production, microfibers found in the ocean were mainly composed of cellulosic (79.5%) or animal origin (12.3%). Only 8.2% were synthetic microplastics.
This either tells us that natural-fiber clothes get washed way more often or they shed so much more microfiber than synthetic clothing do. I suspect it might be the latter.
However, cellulosic microfiber biodegrade within months, unlike microplastics which can take up to 200 years.
Having said that, natural microfiber has consequences on the environment too and prevention is better than cure.
How to reduce microfiber pollution
When you take care of your Tencel clothing properly, they last for years. You’ll also be reducing your environmental foot print. These are ways we can reduce our contribution to the accumulation of microplastics and microfiber in our environment:
- Buy good quality clothes. Low quality fabrics are made of fibers that are weaker. Microfibers break off very easily from these fabrics when they are washed.
- Wash and dry less. Wear your clothes for long and don’t wash after every wear.
- Wash in cold water.
- Wash similar fabrics together. When you put rougher clothing in with finer ones, the abrasion will cause fiber breakage and more microfiber release.
- Buy washing machines with Xfiltra. These are special filters installed in washing machines to capture microfibers with every wash.
- If you already have a washing machine, buy a separate microfiber filter like the Fitrol Lint Filter and connect it to the discharge hose.
- Use a Guppyfriend mesh bag to wash your clothes. It will protect your clothes and catch all the microfibers shed. Just remember not to rinse it out (which defeats the purpose) but instead collect all the fibers and throw them into the trashcan.
- Throw a Cora Ball in with your wash. The Cora Ball will swish around with your clothes and collect up to 31% of the microfibers shed in its tentacles.
To wrap up
Even though Tencel fabric does not release microplastics, it still produces cellulosic microfibers when washed. Even though natural microfibers are biodegradable, the jury is out on how much they negatively impact our eco system.