It's time to stop washing our clothes. Don't step away just yet! If you're a dedicated every-wear washer, we need to talk – you'll save time, energy, money, and the planet.
Our modern lifestyles are harming the planet in countless ways. Sometimes it feels like such a big problem that the thought of solving it feels overwhelming. There is no magic button that will fix all the polluting behaviours we have developed, but we can each take small steps to make a big difference.
That sounds trite, sure, but that's no reason to ignore the point. The problem is not whether those small steps will make a difference - they will. The problem is getting people to realise how important each of those little steps is. It's easy to feel insignificant when it comes to protecting the environment, but it's time to look at it differently.
We all knew that ditching free disposable bags in shops would massively reduce the number of plastic bags sent to landfill. And yet, people kept using them, because they didn't feel like their insignificant five plastic bags a week really mattered in the grand scheme of things.
But in 2015, when free bags were taken away in the UK, people learned to think ahead. The result? Over 800 million fewer single use bags were used in the UK in 2019, compared to 2016. That's 800,000,000 fewer bags headed for landfill. When Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2002, they reported a drop in usage of 90%. We, the consumers, could have changed our behaviour sooner, but we waited for someone else to force our hand.
We can keep ignoring the problem forever, or we can change.
Photography by Karina Tess
There are still so many things we could be doing that would make a difference en masse, but many of us are still waiting.
And that's why I haven't been washing my clothes as much as I used to. In fact, I've become rather strict about what makes it into my washing machine.
You probably know that lots of our clothes contain plastic fibres, such as nylon and polyester. When we wash these fabrics, they release microfibres into the water – fibres so small that waste treatment plants can't filter them all out. You'll probably have heard the phrase 'microplastic pollution'. That's what we're talking about here. Tiny bits of plastic that are released into our drainage systems and eventually into bodies of water where they are harmful to animals, the environment, and us humans.
Photography by Pujohn Das
It is estimated that one average wash cycle releases 700,000 fibres. We have had clues about this for twenty years and over ten years ago scientists provided clear confirmation that it was happening. But many of us have become so keen to stay clean that we risk eradicating all organisms, including ourselves. Many people are still unaware of this problem, or simply ignoring what they know.
We can keep ignoring the problem forever. Or we can change.
Now, I love the smell of freshly washed fabric just as much as the next person, but I'm embracing the fact that some things don't need to be washed every time you wear them. This saves me time on laundry, so it's a double win. Some things only need a spot wiping off. If jumpers pass the sniff test, they go back in the cupboard. If something is getting a little musty, hang it out to air instead of washing it. Let's just all agree that we could be a little bit less clean to be a little bit more green.
Of course, eventually some things need to be washed. If your toddler frequently waits too long for the toilet dash, it won't be long before the washing machine needs to go on. So, what can we do? Firstly, make sure you aren't amplifying the problem by washing with a harmful detergent. Some laundry detergents can be damaging to both your health and the environment.
Yes, it's ridiculous that it is still legal to sell something that is both detrimental to people and the environment, but that's the situation.
Here's the good news. With the advent of the internet, it is easier than ever to hunt down environmentally friendly laundry solutions, like detergent strips from Tru-Earth. Not only are you reducing the use of chemicals, there's no plastic packaging to feel guilty about.
There's more we can do, though. When it comes to microplastic pollution, what you are washing matters. If you're buying new or second-hand clothes, try to choose natural fibres, such as cotton, linen or hemp. These won't shed microplastics like synthetic fibres do. Meaning that you're keeping those fibres out of the oceans, and possibly even your own drinking water.
Oh, and while you're at it, turn down your cycle to thirty degrees.
We have the information, but now we have to make the right choices.
The good news is that when you change your behaviour, you are helping other people to change theirs. You are inspiring the people around you. You are teaching your children. You are supporting the companies who are climate friendly, so that they can invest in marketing to reach even more people.
Think about those 800 million bags that we didn't use and didn't miss. The question now is, do we wait until the government tells us to do what is right? Or do we simply begin to do what is right?
Sooner, rather than too late.
Article by Louise Skeats Main photograph by Thomas Dumortier