California Gets Serious in the Fight Against Plastic Microfibers

©. Story of Stuff

New legislation would require polyester clothing to have a label warning about shedding in the wash.

California is known for taking a progressive stance on environmental issues, and its latest piece of legislation is no exception. Written by assembly member Richard Bloom, the new law AB 2379 would require all clothing containing more than 50 percent synthetic fabric to have a conspicuous label warning of plastic microfiber shedding.

Microfibers are now considered one of the biggest plastic pollution problems we face, with each article of clothing shedding up to 1,900 microfibres per wash. The problem gets worse as garments age and the fibers loosen. Handwashing can help, due to less agitation, but is impractical for large quantities of clothing.

Bloom, who wrote the state ban on plastic microbeads in 2015 that was passed into federal law by President Obama a year later, says the microfiber issue cannot wait. "Plastic microfibers are making their way from washing machines into our seafood and even into the water we drink."

Because the fibers are so small, measuring less than 5 mm in length, they cannot be trapped by wastewater treatment facilities and are washed out into waterways, where they are ingested by marine animals. These, in turn, can be consumed by humans, giving a disturbingly literal interpretation to the saying, "I'd eat my shirt."

A press release from Bloom's office quotes Stiv Wilson, campaigns director for The Story of Stuff, a group that has been very vocal about the negative environmental impact of synthetic clothing. (Watch their video about microfibers from synthetic fabrics.)

"We banned plastic microbeads because of the pollution they cause. Microfibers account for almost twenty times more pollution than microbeads, it’s a crisis. What’s at issue is that because of their size, microfibers are bioavailable to even the smallest creatures in the food chain and if they don’t survive, nothing will."

The goal of the new legislation is to recognize the threat that microfibers present; provide information to the public; and reduce the amount of microfibers that enters the environment. It has two parts:

(1) All clothing that is more than 50 percent polyester would require a label that states, "This garment sheds plastic microfibers when washed. Hand washing recommended."

(2) No clothing made from fabric that is more than 50 percent polyester could be sold on or after January 1, 2020, unless labeled properly.

You can get involved with the fight against microfibers by signing this petition in support of AB 2379 or contact your local assembly member.