The fleecing of America

The fleecing of America

A life without fleece may seem as unthinkable as a life without dogs, flip flops or Subarus. But if we love the outdoors as much as we say we do, we may have to get used to the idea.

Turns out that cuddly, cozy, indestructible, dog-hair covered, trusty wonder fabric you cherish is actually bad for the environment. Sorry – take a moment.

See, like your trusty four-legged pal, fleece – even the recycled kind – sheds more than a husky in summer time. In fact, every time you wash it, millions of microscopic plastic particles swish off and out your washer’s drain hose. According to Backpacker magazine, a study conducted by Patagonia and the University of California Santa Barbara in 2016 found that the average fleece sheds about 1.7 grams of microplastic per wash cycle. Recycled and newer fleece sheds less, whereas older fleece or generic (perish the thought!) sheds more. Of course, one solution, already in wide practice locally, is not to wash your fleece quite as often. But according to the research, just one wash a year for every fleece sold in 2019 produces 15 tons of microplastics. Although wastewater treatment plants can catch more than 98 percent of microplastics, each plant still pumps out some 65 million microplastic fragments daily.

As we’ve heard, microplastics proliferate far and wide from the high mountain air to our tap water, milk, beer, you name it. According to a 2019 study by the World Wildlife Foundation, the average person ingests 9 ounces of plastic per year – the equivalent of one credit card per week. Although there’s no research showing exactly what harm this causes, one can only imagine.

Granted this news is not “new” – the Patagonia/UC Santa Barbara study has been out for years – yet Americans keep snapping up new fleece to the tune of 7.8 million a year. To their credit, manufacturers have been heeding the call, with Patagonia working to reduce the amount of microplastics that slough off in the wash and Polartec releasing Power Air, a knit fleece that sheds five times less. But there is no such thing as a no-shed fleece – at least not yet.

As Backpacker’s Casey Lyons puts it, it’s easy to congratulate ourselves when 20 recycled soda bottles went into making our garment. But 20 single objects are significantly easier to scoop out of the waste stream than microplastic fragments.

But don’t become unraveled just yet? Backpacker suggests to hang onto your existing fleece, wear it until it’s a rag and – although your camping buddies may object – don’t wash it as much. If you absolutely must, hand wash or use a front-loader machine. And when it’s time to buy something new, think about natural fibers like good, old-fashioned wool – you know, the original fleece.

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