Microfiber cloth is commonly used for cleaning surfaces but its use can be threatening to the environment and marine life.
Why Microfiber Cloth Is A Threat For The Environment
Microfiber pollution is the occurrence of tiny fibers from microfiber cloth released into the environment primarily through washing. These fibers can be as small as 1/5 of a human hair and are too small to be captured by water facilities before being released into open water.
When microfiber cloths are washed in a washing machine, they shed fibers. These fibers are then carried away via water and they are so small that most lint filters cannot catch them in place, nor the wastewater facilities.
Once these fibers make it to lakes and rivers, aquatic animals cannot help but mistake them for food. The ingestion causes microfiber buildup in their tissues which are then passed up in the chain risking the health of all the living animals involved.
Microfiber cloths are made from synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, which do not break down in the environment without human intervention.
They always end up in open environments one way or the other, making the soil less ideal for trees to grow and water polluted for animals to live in. Since we humans are usually at the top of this food chain, we are the ones affected most in terms of quality and quantity.
The primary components of microfiber cloths, polyester and polyimide, use fossil fuels as the main resource for production which is non-renewable. It also takes a large amount of energy and water to spin, extrude, draw, and texturize the fibers.
There are often additional processes after that like dyeing, printing, and finishing which are no less resource-hungry. By the time a finished product is shipped, the environmental impact that has been created is very hard to offset.
There are currently not many facilities that can recycle microfiber cloths. Those few who can recycle them still struggle as synthetic fiber is hard to separate from our materials such as dirt or lint and fiber shredding is inevitable.
The recycling of microfibers causes significant quality degradation of the material which often fails the quality assurance test to be able to be used in new products turning that recycled microfiber into literal waste.
What To Replace Microfiber Cloth With
The most eco-friendly alternative and a direct substitute to microfiber cloths are cotton cloths. Cotton is biodegradable, meaning it will eventually break down naturally in the environment minimizing the threat that a microfiber cloth poses.
They are relatively easy to recycle and cotton farming can be done sustainably with methods such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and integrated pest management. This can help conserve soil and water and reduce the use of pesticides.
As a recommendation, we have the cotton cloths from a sustainable-product brand called “Full Circle Home”. Although these clothes are marketed as dishcloths, they are equally usable for cleaning countertops, glasses, and other surfaces, thanks to their rough sewn side.
The only downside I see in them is that it needs to be washed in cold water. You can put them inside a washing machine but the setting has to be a cold wash, otherwise, the fabric can start to loosen up.
How Cotton Cloth Is Environmentally Friendly
Cotton cloth is made from natural fibers derived from cotton plants. These fibers consist of cellulose, lignin, and other similar organic compounds that can be broken down by microorganisms naturally.
Although it takes time probably a few years to biodegrade, it will not persist in landfills forever like most synthetic materials. It’s important to note that while cotton cloths are biodegradable, they should still be disposed of correctly.
Cotton can absorb 27 times its weight whereas microfiber can 7 times. This is huge when your main purpose for getting cleaning cloth is to clean up water spills.
Additionally, cotton fibers are naturally porous which means they have tiny spaces within the fibers that allow them to absorb more liquid. This also allows cotton cloths to hold onto dirt and grime more effectively, making them more efficient cleaning tools.
Cotton cloth gives a bunch of recycling options. First and foremost, if you dispose of cotton correctly, waste management facilities are well-equipped to separate them from other materials and recycle them into new cloths and products.
Unlike microfibers, cotton cloths does not shred or not enough that they lose their recycling capability. The recycling of cotton is also noticeably cheaper than microfibers, thanks to the current infrastructure we have around cotton.
The Tradeoffs Of Using Cotton Cloths
Although most things you would hear about cotton cloths are positive, they have somewhat production impact on the environment, but not as severe as those of microfibers.
Cotton plants require a large amount of water to grow to their fullest strength which can lead to water stress in some areas. When cotton is not organically grown, the use of pesticides and fertilizers can contaminate the soil.
Cotton cloth is more expensive than microfiber cloth of its sort. The reason is that microfiber cloths use polyethylene-type material whose production cost is low. Cotton, on the other hand, is harvested naturally from cotton plants requiring more labor and farming land.
Scale is another big reason. Our facilities are more equipped to produce synthetic materials used in microfiber than growing cotton trees.