SHOP THE AD­VICE

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE -

I’m wondering how of­ten I should be wash­ing my clothes. I don’t want them to wear out, but also, ob­vi­ously, don’t want them to be dirty. What’s the av­er­age num­ber of wears? — Travis, Toronto

I have two young chil­dren who are able to dirty them­selves from hat to sock in a nanosec­ond. (Sadly com­mon re­frains in my house­hold: How did you get mud on your back? Take your socks out of your mouth!) As such, my hus­band and I were trapped in a seem­ingly end­less spin cy­cle of laun­dry, and I’ve got­ten used to just chuck­ing my own gen­tly worn clothes in the laun­dry along with the piles of teeny un­der­pants and mis­matched socks.

But, as the dis­cus­sion about cli­mate change con­tin­ues to heat up, I have felt a twinge of guilt ev­ery time I punch the on but­ton of the wash­ing ma­chine. The ques­tion we all need to start ask­ing our­selves is rel­a­tively sim­ple: How clean is clean enough?

I turned to Peter Ross, highly re­spected sci­en­tist and the vice-pres­i­dent of re­search at Ocean Wise in Van­cou­ver, who has stud­ied the ef­fects of laun­dry at length. “In this era, we de­fault to want­ing per­fectly clean clothes,” he agrees. “Even if they’re not ac­tu­ally dirty, we of­ten throw clothes into the wash­ing ma­chine al­most as a way of or­ga­niz­ing the home; it’s eas­ier than think­ing about it.” So should we be wash­ing clothes less? “Ab­so­lutely,” he says firmly. “It’s go­ing to help in two ways: Your clothes are likely to last longer and re­main in bet­ter con­di­tion, and im­por­tantly, there will be fewer mi­croplas­tic fi­bres re­leased.”

Be­cause while we of­ten think of laun­dry as a frus­trat­ing chore and as a drain of elec­tric­ity and wa­ter, there is an­other im­por­tant con­cern to ad­dress: the tiny plas­tic fi­bres from syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als (think polyester, ny­lon, acrylic and the like) are wash­ing off our clothes and en­ter­ing the ecosys­tem at alarm­ing rates.

“In our study, we looked at sea wa­ter and fresh­wa­ter, ev­ery­thing from zoo­plank­ton to bel­uga whales up in the Arc­tic. They used the best foren­sic tech­nolo­gies avail­able — the kind of fancy mi­cro­scopes they use on ‘CSI’ to fig­ure who done it — to de­ter­mine where mi­croplas­tic fi­bres were be­ing found in the wild. The re­sults were chill­ing: “We find mi­croplas­tics in ev­ery sin­gle sam­ple we look at, and in ev­ery species we look at,” he says. “The same can be told of other re­search groups in other parts of the world.” But where are these plas­tic shreds com­ing from? “The smok­ing gun points to tex­tiles re­leas­ing large quan­ti­ties of mi­crofi­bres into aquatic en­vi­ron­ments.”

It’s hard to think of your fave fleece sweater as a pol­lu­tant, but the big-pic­ture prob­lem is our “love af­fair with plas­tic,” as Ross puts it. “It’s es­ti­mated that ev­ery year, the av­er­age Cana­dian is re­spon­si­ble for the use of ap­prox­i­mately three to four times their body weight in plas­tic. There are smart uses — some plas­tic makes travel less ex­pen­sive and more green­house-gas friendly; and there are dumb uses, like putting poly­eth­yl­ene mi­crobeads into tooth­paste, which was fi­nally banned in Canada in last year.”

Let­ting syn­thetic fi­bres build up in our oceans falls into the sense­less cat­e­gory. “The av­er­age laun­dry load could eas­ily have mil­lions of fi­bres go­ing out in the wa­ter,” Ross says. “The num­bers are sig­nif­i­cant.”

This, to be hon­est, is the kind of in­for­ma­tion I find nearly par­a­lyz­ing: I don’t rel­ish the feel­ing of stand­ing in front of my wash­ing ma­chine hold­ing muddy pants and feel­ing guilty. But Ross is mat­ter-of-fact about the role of per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity on the is­sue: It’s im­por­tant, but so is sweep­ing top-down ac­tion. “We should all roll up our sleeves and join the team,” says Ross, who is work­ing with gov­ern­ment agen­cies and com­pa­nies to ed­u­cate them on the mer­its of so-called “blue de­sign” that could de­vise cloth­ing that sim­ply doesn’t shed

These handy prod­ucts can help trap mi­croplas­tic fi­bres. mi­croplas­tics. “Un­til then, ob­vi­ously, it would be great if ev­ery­one was do­ing a slightly bet­ter job of re­cy­cling, took some time to clean up a beach and did all those things we some­times scoff at be­cause ‘it’s not go­ing to save the world,’ but at the same time, if ev­ery­body starts do­ing some­thing, then we’re at least go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

So pitch­ing your yoga pants and buy­ing an all-new nat­u­ral-fi­bre wardrobe isn’t the an­swer: Cot­ton is a wa­ter-thirsty crop and ditch­ing per­fectly good cloth­ing is just fight­ing a con­sump­tion-re­lated is­sue with more con­sump­tion. It’s throw­ing the boat-neck sweater out with the bath­wa­ter, as it were. In­stead, your first step should be to merely be con­sid­er­ate be­fore wash­ing. There is no magic num­ber, but ask your­self: Does your T-shirt pass the sniff-test? Could it just be aired out? Should you be wash­ing your fleece jacket as of­ten as an un­der­shirt when you nearly never wash your fall coats?

Then, when it’s time to get the wash­ing ma­chine whirring, use less soap (we al­most all use too much, which is a waste of money and re­sources) and opt for the set­ting that con­sumes the least wa­ter. Then, if you have only a few syn­thetic gar­ments, arm your­self with a wash bag that col­lects the fi­bres be­fore they en­ter waste­water. Or if you are like me and have a plethora of such cloth­ing items, hook your­self up with a wash­ing ma­chine fil­ter from Cana­dian brands like Lint LUV-R or The Fil­trol that in­stall as an at­tach­ment to your wash­ing ma­chine, and which you then clean reg­u­larly, just as you would your dryer’s trap. “Those will elim­i­nate up to about 90 per cent of your mi­crofi­bre dis­charge, so they are ef­fec­tive,” Ross says. “If we want in­dus­try and gov­ern­ments to be wise, then it be­hooves the in­di­vid­ual con­sumer to be wise as well.”

So, I don’t know about you, but af­ter years of sim­ply feel­ing con­flicted, that’s my new sim­ple game plan: Stop, think, and fi­nally, act wisely.

Send your press­ing fash­ion and beauty ques­tions to Kathryn at [email protected]

Cora Ball, $50, uni­corn­baby.ca

The Fil­trol, $183, fil­trol.net

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