Today’s post is about greener laundry options.
Just take a second to think about the billions of washing loads done across the world each week. Not just in homes like yours but also industrial laundry for hotels, hospitals, care homes and the like. Put it all together and it’s a staggering amount. On this scale especially, eco-friendly washing efforts tend to go out the window.
Are you taking any steps at home to reduce the environmental impact of your laundry? It can be a bit daunting knowing where to begin. It helps to start by thinking more about what the key issues are and why they exist.
As well as causing massive amounts of toxic laundry liquids and softeners to be released into the environment (more on that in a future post), many garments and bedding these days are made of synthetic materials or at the very least a synthetic mix.
Things like nylon, polyester, rayon and acrylic have become so common. All of these are derived from petrochemicals.
Have you heard of “easy care”? Non-iron materials for things like sheets and shirts. So many of us are time poor and that has been a key marketing hook for creating and selling such products. After all, who really has the time or energy to iron things all the time? Especially large sheets.
Affordability has also been a factor in the dawning of this synthetic revolution. It won’t surprise you to hear that synthetic fabrics cost less so they are often more accessible to producers and end-consumers.
And, of course, the synthetics clothing problem has been exacerbated by the rise of Fast Fashion. Quality and longevity has gone out the window in favour of a quick and cheap fix. But at what real cost?
The micro plastics problem
You may have heard that a key problem with washing synthetic fabrics is the release of micro-plastics. Millions of these teeny but sinister fibres shed from non-natural fabrics every time they’re washed. To give you some idea, each microfibre is around 1/100th of a single grain of rice.
These minuscule fibres go straight into our waterways and then in to rivers and oceans. Here they cause devastating pollution and seriously disrupt marine ecosystems. Micro plastics are harming the health and lives of pretty much all sea creatures.
You’ve probably seen the heart-breaking scenes in wildlife documentaries of visible plastics and how they maim and kill animals. Micro plastics add to this. They’re a major environmental hazard but one that’s not immediately obvious because the fibres cannot be seen until they’ve accumulated to severe levels.
You might also have heard that micro plastics are becoming increasingly more concentrated higher up the food chain. Particularly in seafood. Inevitable really but still scary.
The good news
There is something positive you can do now to stop contributing to this problem. Get yourself a Guppyfriend washing filter bag!
In case you’re wondering where the name comes from, a Guppy is a small tropical fish found in large numbers all over the world. Somehow “Fishyfriend” doesn’t have the same ring to it….
The bags are made of recyclable polyamide. I know it seems strange to be trying to solve a plastics problem with yet more plastic, but of course, the Guppyfriend does not release any micro fibres. Phew.
Profits from sales of the bags go to STOP! Micro Waste non-profit initiative and the STOP! Plastic Academy – both of which aim to increase awareness and education around micro plastics. If you’d like to find out more, check out Guppyfriend’s website here.
How to use a Guppyfriend
You’ll need to put any synthetic clothing or other items into the Guppyfriend bag. Be sure not to pack the items in too tightly. About ¾ full is about right so they have space to move. Then zip it up and add to your normal wash.
Liquid laundry cleaner is best as powder can get caught up in the bag and leave residues. Ideally set the machine temperature to 30 degrees. When you’re done just empty and hang the bag to dry on a clothes airer.
You won’t notice anything collecting in the Guppyfriend for quite a few months. Spoiler alert: it’s not like emptying the filter of a tumble dryer.
Over time, the fibres will visibly build up on the seams of the bag. Once this happens, you can gather them up and discard in the bin. Of course it’s frustrating that the fibres will end up in landfill but at least you’ll have stopped them from going into waterways and the ocean.
Currently, the Guppyfriend bag comes in one size only: 25 inches x 17.5 inches. This is similar to a standard sized pillow case. It holds a surprisingly large amount of items.
When doing laundry you’ll find it becomes second nature to divide the items into synthetic fabrics and natural ones. you can then pair up the piles so the Guppyfriend can be used to wash the synthetics responsibly in the bag alongside the natural non-bagged items.
Too much synthetic clothing…
When you start using the Guppyfriend you might realise just how much of your clothing is fully synthetic or at least a synthetic mix. Around 50% of the clothes I wear each week are fully or partially made of non-natural fabrics. It’s a real wake-up call.
Even though it takes more effort and initial outlay, having this realisation is motivation for consciously trying harder to buy clothing that is made of 100% natural and sustainable materials. Including bamboo and organic cotton. As well as not contributing to micro plastics, items made of these also tend to be more durable and last longer. So you can buy fewer and less often. A further environmental win.
Can I use multiple bags?
If like me, you have loads of synthetic items, you might wonder if you can use two Guppyfriend bags in the same load.
Sadly not. Using more than one bag at a time can cause the machine to become imbalance. This can affect the spin cycle and leave everything drenched.
The best way round this is to spread out the bagged-up synthetic items across washes containing things like cotton towels, bedding and any non-synthetic clothing. Most towels at least tend to be 100% cotton so that’s a great natural bulker for your wash loads.
I don’t know how long the Guppyfriend is supposed to last. It is sturdy and well made so I’d reckon at least 5 – 1o years.
When the bag does reach the end of its life, you can mail it back to Guppyfriend who will recycle it into new bags. So at least your bag won’t ever go to waste.
What about a permanent solution?
There’s no doubt the Guppyfriend bag is a wonderful invention. It’s certainly a short to medium term solution that will go a long way to helping reduce micro plastics pollution. Sadly the bags aren’t currently mainstream and it’s hard to know if they will really catch on. Some might see them as yet another step to take in a household chore that they really haven’t got time to do in the first place.
For the longer term, thankfully, many washing machine manufacturers are re-designing their products to have better filters that will properly catch micro fibres. But it’s unclear when these will be available on any notable scale, so, until then, please do join me in bagging up and zipping!
If you’ve already tried a washing filter bag, I’d love to hear what you think. Please do post in the comments below or drop me a line.
Guppyfriend washing bag, £25 available online from Guppyfriend and also from supermarkets such as Waitrose, Ocado and also National Trust shops.