ONE WORD: PLASTICS: The Story of Stuff Project is trying to fend off microfiber pollution with a new online video and petition aimed at major apparel brands.
With a community of one million, the San Francisco-based group was started 10 years ago by Annie Leonard, who is now executive director of Greenpeace USA but continues as a strategic adviser and board member. This week’s microfibers-focused initiative builds on a series of videos including the original one “The Story of Stuff,” which has been viewed by more than 30 million people.
Nine months in the making, the two-minute short was produced and illustrated by Ruben DeLuna Creative with the hope that companies will wake up to the issues, said The Story of Stuff Project’s executive director Michael O’Heaney. “We wanted to make sure we had the right content and the right tone — the idea is to encourage apparel companies to take note of the issue and start to work on solutions; help the public understand the issue but not antagonize the industry.”
Twenty-five companies will be targeted “to attempt to have a conversation,” he said, declining to identify any of them. The three objectives are for companies to acknowledge the issue, invest time and resources to look for solutions in fabric design or other areas and then make that research public so that companies “are actually working together to solve the problem and not competing with each other,” O’Heaney said.
Through its work in the past two years helping to bar the use of microbeads by cosmetics and personal-care product companies, The Story of Stuff Project supporters learned microfibers are actually more of a contributor to plastic pollution than microbeads. At the end of 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead Free Waters Act, outlawing the manufacture and sale of products, including exfoliants, containing microbeads. While tires, carpeting and other synthetic products contribute to the problem, fashion is likely the largest contributor, O’Heaney said.
Praising Patagonia and Eileen Fisher for research, O’Heaney mentioned the former’s 2016 study with the University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School that investigated the emerging issue of ocean pollution from tiny fibers such as nylon, acrylic and polyester. The report indicated how machine washing a fleece garment can result in releasing a “couple hundred thousand fibers,” he said.
To try to offset microfiber pollution, Patagonia is introducing the Guppy Friend, a bag to enclose microfiber garments that will be sold at cost internationally. Developed with a partner in Germany, Patagonia is supporting further refinement of the item with a $91,000 grant.
“Noting the older our clothes get, the worse the problem can become,” the short claims there are 1.4 million trillion microfibers in the ocean, or 200 million for every person on the planet. Viewers are told that every time a synthetic fabric garment is washed (regardless if it is made of recycled bottles or brand new materials) “super tiny pieces of plastic” wash off and flow down the drain, eventually escaping to rivers, streams and oceans.
Next up will be “The Story of Plastics,” which is expected to be at least a 10-minute animated “exploration of plastics from the extraction of the oil to the disposal unfortunately in the ocean, overlaid with interviews from people around the world who are implementing and proposing solutions,” O’Heaney said.