How do you take care of your workout gear?
There’s a lot of overlap between health-conscious and eco-conscious practices. After all, it makes sense that you might care about both your own well-being and that of the planet. But if you think that practicing yoga (like 36 million other Americans do) translates to being more sustainable, you might be in for a rude awakening.
That’s especially true if you’re wearing — and washing — those ubiquitous stretchy garments to class.
Certainly, yoga and other workout classes can be highly beneficial. Although less than 5% of American adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, those who are dedicated to their yoga practice or other group exercise routine can make a host of positive changes. And if your child is one of the 51% enrolled in a full-day school program, you might actually have the time to go to one of these classes. That time to yourself is important and healthy. Not only will these individuals likely lose weight, increase flexibility, gain energy, and improve their mental state, but they may even find a solution to other ailments. Since one-half of all working Americans admit to experiencing back pain symptoms each year, yoga can be great for stretching and working out the kinks — and potentially alleviating pain.
That said, there may be another type of pain to contend with: washing your yoga gear after each sweaty session. And if you wear the type of clothing that many other yogis or fitness-obsessed Americans do, that could be a real problem.
That’s because our yoga pants (and countless other garments besides) are made from microfiber. Although nylon, polyester, and acrylic materials are incredibly common, these textiles often contain plastic particles. Microfibers are ideal for absorption and for repelling water, which is why they’re found in workout gear. But unfortunately, these fibers are so small that they’re released from these garments each time they’re put into the washing machine. From there, these synthetic fibers end up in our oceans and rivers — which means they’re negatively impacting local wildlife and may end up in our water supply.
We may rely on reusable plastics — up to 80 million tons of them — like the components made from the reaction injecting molding process, for countless applications. But what’s happening with these plastics is alarming to experts. We’ve already taken steps to ban microplastics, like in 2015 when the U.S. Congress banned microbeads (like those that were used in face scrubs and other personal care products). But this microplastic pollution continues to infiltrate because synthetic fibers, unlike niche cosmetics items, are virtually everywhere.
Scientists suggest that there is an easy way for us to at least reduce the number of microfibers that are able to make their way into our water. By forgoing the popular delicate wash cycle, we may be able to do a little bit more to help save the planet.
Although this wash cycle may not be recommended for the long-term care of your clothes — which could really lead to more waste, when you think about it — refraining from using the delicate cycle is a lot less wasteful overall. The amount of water used during a given laundry cycle has a direct impact on the number of microfibers that are released from clothing. In fact, Newcastle University researchers found that 800,000 more fibers were released during a delicate cycle than during a standard one. Interestingly, the washing machine drum spins faster during delicate cycles, meaning that the garments are actually more agitated when this option is selected.
Of course, even if you aren’t washing microfiber garments, choosing the standard cycle will be significantly more sustainable. What’s more, washing a full load of clothes (rather than a few pieces that require special care) is a much more eco-friendly option. And while you might not want to re-wear your yoga gear after an active class, waiting to wash clothing until it truly needs to be laundered can be a greener way of going about your weekly chores.
As a fail-safe, you can also invest in an energy audit for your home’s favorite machines. If your washing machine is old, it won’t be working as efficiently as newer units with Energy Star-rated features. Nowadays, even 50% of air compressors are able to promote energy conservation in the workplace. But you can do your part to help the planet by replacing outdated items and appliances in your home.
More than likely, microfibers aren’t going anywhere. But by reducing the number of microfiber garments you purchase and by changing the way you wash the ones you have, you can reduce your environmental impact a little bit at a time.