This year I am phasing out my stash of acrylic yarn, and here’s why: our oceans are becoming polluted with tiny synthetic microfibers, and it’s bad news for marine life.
I don’t enjoy being a Debbie Downer, so I promise you that I will end this on a positive note.
Here’s the gist of the problem, which has been brought to light by a growing body of research over the past few years (sources linked and listed below):
- Shedding: Synthetic clothing and other textiles shed tiny fibers called microfibers or microplastics. A lot of this shedding happens when they are washed. Acrylic garments can shed up to 700,000 microfibers each!
- Getting into the ocean: Those microfibers get washed through the drain into our waterways, and eventually into the ocean.
- Stickin’ around: Since they are synthetic, the microfibers take a very long time to biodegrade and therefore stick around in our bays and oceans.
- Harming marine life: Marine animals like crabs and worms ingest the fibers. That’s okay, they’ll just poop them out, right? Nope, the fibers appear to stick around in their gut and they end up eating less food. It’s also possible that the fibers leach chemicals that they’ve picked up and transported – right into the animals guts. And ours, if we eat them.
Still not convinced of the relationship between washing synthetic materials and microfiber pollution in our oceans?
You don’t have to take my word for it—just read through the research.
(Not even sure if marine life really matters in the grand scheme of things? There’s plenty of research on that, too.)
Even clothing manufacturers are starting to take notice, with eco-conscious outfitter Patagonia leading the way with more research and a temporary workaround for consumers.
What does this mean for us crocheters an knitters who use synthetic yarns? What can we do to reduce or eliminate synthetic fibers sloughing off of our handmade goods and ending up in the guts of critters and humans?
Well, first, let’s not stick our heads in the sand in denial. Just because we’re ignoring a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. No need to despair, though!
Once you make that first (possibly reluctant) step toward more earth-friendly yarn crafts, you will get a wonderful, satisfied feeling.
Here are some tips on how to be better to our oceans and ourselves by changing our yarn habits:
- Use synthetic yarns only for no-wash projects. If you’re making something that almost never needs to be washed (e.g. a basket or a pillow), the impact of that item on our oceans could be a lot less than a baby sweater or a scarf. So, if you just can’t give up all synthetic yarns yet, try limited them to projects like these.
- Use a specially-made bag for washing synthetic yarn items. The Guppy Bag is specially designed to prevent synthetic microfibers from getting into your wash water and out into waterways. There’s some question as to what happens with the fibers that get trapped in the bag, though—do they just end up in the trash, and therefore back into the environment anyways?
- Wash things less frequently. I love this one, because it saves me time! Sure, if something is truly dirty or smelly, you should probably wash it. But could you get away with more spot-washing? Or fewer washes in general? That means fewer fibers in our oceans.
- Use less synthetic yarn. This seems obvious, but reduction is important. Do you really need to do that one other project? Can you choose projects that take longer and use less yarn? How many items do you and your family/friends really need? Also, using fewer super-bulky yarns means you’ll use less fiber and produce fewer microfibers. (Hey, maybe YOU will be the one who shifts us away from the super-bulky yarn trend!)
- Try natural fibers. Yes, acrylic and other types of synthetic yarn are cheap, washable, and can have a lovely feel to them. But there are SO many others to choose from! You don’t have to empty your wallet to buy them, either. Experiment with cotton-wool blends, upcycled cotton t-shirt yarn, linen, hemp, etc. Scour thrift stores and online sales for good deals.
I used to buy acrylic yarn exclusively due to its affordability, softness and washability, but eventually I found that making less with better yarn made me happier (and those ocean worms, too, apparently). Natural fibers do have varying impacts on the environment, but their fibers biodegrade much faster than plastics.
It can be hard to change our habits, especially when it involves something we love doing and that brings us joy.
All it takes is a small change, though—maybe one skein of yarn in a natural fiber, or one intricate project instead of two quick ones, or just using a special bag for washing things. That’s all you need to get started.
I’m slowly switching entirely to natural fibers this year once my acrylic stash is whittled down. I’m using it up on home goods that don’t need to be washed. Since my yarn budget probably isn’t budging, I may have to buy slightly less yarn.
I’m okay with that, because the alternative is much worse. And the good feelings I get when I buy natural fibers will replace any disappointment I may feel because I can’t buy quite as much as I want.
Accumulation of Microplastic on Shorelines Woldwide: Sources and Sinks – Environmental Science and Technology
Marine animals perish due to microplastics – International Business Times
Are synthetic fleece and other types of clothing harming our water? – Washington Post