Let’s be real, yoga pants are magical. They stretch with you as your body moves, they can keep you warm or cool as you exercise, and they can even wick away moisture. They do all this because they are synthetic—that is, they’re made out of man-made materials like nylon, rayon, acrylic, and spandex, most of which are plastic-based materials.
We make these materials in labs, and then use them in garments that are versatile, durable, and, according to the latest research, bad for the planet. Many of us have probably seen those iconic images of ‘trash gyres’ found in our oceans… but those are made out of plastic bottles and other large trash, right? Turns out that plastic pollution, especially the kind that makes its way into the oceans of our planet, is also made up of microplastics.
What Are Microplastics?
Officially defined as pieces of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters in size, microplastics are plastic pollutants that are too small to easily see individually, and come from myriad sources that we encounter in our day-to-day life on land: the little beads in popular exfoliating moisturizers, broken down pieces of larger plastic items, and, surprisingly, microfibers from our synthetic garments.
This last item on the list mostly finds its way into the waterways when we wash our clothes, with poorly made garments shedding more fibers per wash than well-made garments. But the fact remains that all synthetic clothes shed plastic particles into the plumbing, the wastewater, and eventually our oceans.
Needless to say, our oceans are diverse, precious, and fragile ecosystems. These plastic pollutants, both microscopic and visible, can affect them by blocking out the essential light that the organisms at the very foundation of the food chain need in order to produce the energy that will radiate up through the rest of the ecosystem. Further, larger organisms can eat the plastic and die from poisoning or malnutrition, or can get caught on it, hindering their movement and therefore their survival.
What Can You Do?
So, how do we, as people who love wearing yoga pants but also love the planet, reduce our contribution to the pollution? As stated by Patagonia in their research into the issue, both distributors and consumers need to “invest in gear built to last”. Not only will these garments shed less microplastic, but you’ll have to buy less of them throughout the life of your yoga practice.
The biggest way we can all work towards a microplastic-less world, however, is by buying clothing made from natural fibers, such as silk, wool, cotton, linen, and even hemp. Bamboo fiber is being incorporated in an increasingly wide array of activewear, and is just as comfortable and stretchy as synthetic fiber. Some popular brands that have been leading the charge into natural-fiber activewear include the aforementioned Patagonia, PrAna, and even huge brands such as Nike.
By just taking a little extra time to look at the materials list on your clothing tag, and maybe investing a little extra in the price tag, you can personally contribute to the good health of our oceans—and that feels just as good, if not better, than spending the day in yoga pants.