As the beach season, warm temperatures, and sunny skies, are in full swing, Americans became eager to shop for new swimwear after a long year of being in a pandemic lock down.
During a time when climate change and eco-friendly products are on many consumer’s minds this summer, swimwear is an item that people might not necessarily consider to be harmful to the environment.
It also might seem unusual that the search for sustainable and eco-friendly swimwear has become a hot topic recently and finding sustainable swimwear options can be difficult. Turns out, bathing suits and bikinis tend to be damaging for the planet because of — you guessed it — plastic. Scientists estimate that 190,000 tons of textile “microfibers” or tiny pieces of plastic, end up in oceans and pollute the planet every year. Along with the 10% of global carbon emissions that the fast fashion industry produces yearly.
Eco-conscious luxury brands and fashion experts have started to come out with sustainable and vegan products to help contribute to the environment. Swimsuits that are made from eco-friendly fabrics tend to be more prone to damage but are biodegradable, which simply means it can be decomposed by bacteria or other types of living organisms. However, as the movement is still relatively new, finding affordable prices can be difficult, especially while the majority of mainstream and fast fashion brands continue to use synthetic materials.
A typical bathing suit requires different kinds of water-resistant, stretchable, and durable fabrics. Most types of bathing suits are made of materials such as nylon, the world’s first synthetic fiber, which creates flexibility and absorbency to help provide a fast drying time. Some other most common materials include spandex or polyester, to enhance elasticity and suit the curves of all body types.
The downside is that these synthetic materials, like polyester and nylon, tend to shed invisible plastic fibers into the ocean. Scientists discovered that when synthetic clothing or fabrics are washed, microfiber particles are released inside washing machines, where only a certain amount can be filtered out. This has led to clothes washing becoming one of the biggest contributors to microfiber pollution.
But what happens when people enter the ocean wearing bathing suits and there are no waste-water treatments filters? These tiny scraps of plastic flow directly in water currents, enter the stomachs of marine life, and eventually end up in the human food chain. According to biologists, microplastics are less than 5 millimeters in length and ultimately make their way through wastewater plants and damage marine environments by absorbing other types of pollutants that float around.
The main alternative that eco-friendly brands are now relying on to design and manufacture swimwear is recycled fibers. Some brands turn to linen or recycled plastic waste found in landfills and oceans to create more sustainable designs. Just weeks before the arrival of the pandemic turned the fashion industry upside down — fashion designer and sustainable fashion expert, Brigett Artise, showcased her brand of recycled materials during New York Fashion Week 2020. “I think it’s more about awareness and people getting to know what it all actually means,” said Artise. Her brand Born Again Vintage consists of using renewable and upcycled garments to educate consumers about ways to help prevent global warming. Artise added, “From when I started 15 years ago to now, we’ve had the two new words ‘eco-friendly and green’ so just the fact that we’re at a place where we’re finally talking about sustainability — of course, there’s been amazing strives.”
Swimwear is a type of product that gets replaced yearly or often due to its reusable lifespan. In order to maintain its flexibility, it is recommended for swimwear to be gently rinsed by hand and air dried out of the sun after each use, since getting rid of chlorine or salt is essential for minimizing breakage. A product that can survive long periods of time in the sun, heat, chlorine, and salt water, can most likely remain even longer in a landfill. For this reason, the best way to prevent synthetics from ending up in landfills or being incinerated is for brands and consumers to send them to recycling facilities, where fabrics get regenerated and reused. So, instead of throwing away your old swimwear — consider recycling it, reselling it, or reusing the fabric that no longer fits you to make a new clothing item.
Most of all, it is important to remember that recycled plastic is not a perfect solution and most sustainable brands still continue to use a small percentage of elastic or latex material. According to the nonprofit Ellen MacArthur Foundation, more than 22 million metric tons of microfibers are estimated to enter the ocean between 2015 and 2050. Entirely switching to 100% environmentally, eco-friendly and vegan swimwear can be tricky — but starting with small sustainable fashion methods can definitely help reduce the rate at which plastic is manufactured and released into the ocean.
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