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Your Gymwear Could Be Polluting the Ocean

Of all the clothes we own, none of them work as hard as our gym clothes. They stretch at all the right places, keep your cool, make sweat seem secondary, and most of all, they make you look great. But some of the commonly used fabrics in your gym clothes could be causing more harm than good to the environment. 

Key Takeaways: They stretch and shed 

Activewear comes packed with some high-performance fabric qualities: 

1. The ability to wick moisture and dry quickly

2. An incomparable amount of stretch that gives free rein of motion even if you do a full split. 

    Sounds impressive, right?! The problem is that all of these qualities are usually found in plastic-based fabrics like polyester, nylon and spandex that account for most of the activewear present in the market today. These fibres are notorious for shedding microfibres that make their way into rivers, lakes, and ultimately, our oceans. 

    Once these microfibres are in the ocean, they are consumed by sea creatures like plankton, who mistake them for food. Eventually, larger aquatic species like whales further ingest these plastic particles. Research by Ocean Clean Wash has found that plastic particles washed off from synthetic clothes contribute up to 35% of the primary plastic polluting our oceans. Moreover, every time we do our laundry, an average of 9 million microfibres are released into wastewater treatment plants that cannot filter them — due to which these fibres end up in the ocean. 

    Unsurprisingly, scientists have now found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, and more than half of those end up on our dinner plates — a number that is only expected to rise if the problem isn’t addressed. By 2050, the amount of plastic microfibres entering our oceans could pile up to an excess of 22m tonnes and, a study found them in 67% of all seafood at fish markets in California. So clearly, microplastics aren’t just a problem for our oceans and aquatic life, but a grave one for us too. 

    What’s the sustainable alternative? 

    Activewear brands are beginning to realise this problem and are now actively seeking to reduce their use of virgin synthetics in favour of sustainable fabrics. Listed below are a range of sustainable, plant-based fibres that are making strides in the activewear market;

    1. Bamboo

    Breathable, comfortable and super soft, bamboo happens to be an impeccable performance fabric that’s great at absorbing moisture and regulating your temperature while you work out. Additionally, bamboo activewear does away with the post-workout stink that synthetic materials are known for. Since bamboo inherently wicks moisture, air can’t get to the odor-causing bacteria, and as a result, clothes stay fresher for longer.

    2. TENCEL™

    Just like bamboo, TENCEL™ is a plant-based fibre made from sustainably sourced wood pulp. TENCEL™ fabric is breathable, biodegradable. It also contains tiny fibrils that lend the fabric sweat-wicking properties with a supple texture — pretty much the same high performance characteristic as synthetic fabrics, minus the negative impact.

    3. Hemp 

    A sustainable hero plant, hemp fibre is known for being strong, absorbent, long-lasting, and insulating. It is also a bast fibre from the softer parts of the plant’s stalk, making hemp clothes feel feathery soft and cool on the skin. Packed with antibacterial properties and amazing resistance to UV rays, hemp is your ideal partner for those morning hikes in the sun.

    4. Organic Cotton

    At first glance, organic cotton may not seem like an ideal choice for workouts since it absorbs moisture and can potentially make you feel like a washcloth during a high-intensity workout. But when blended with other fibres, organic cotton makes for an ideal choice for active innerwear. The good part about its moisture absorbency is that it won’t give you a nasty post-workout stench like synthetics, just like bamboo. 

    It should be noted that sustainable activewear may still contain a small amount of recycled polyester or elastane for stretch, but one that wouldn’t be a cause for enormous microplastic shed when compared to fully synthetic activewear.

    To know more about textiles that release plastic microfibres, read our informative pieces on:

    And since we’re on the topic of activewear, you may want to look at this too:

    Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2021-06-24

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