Pope Francis explains that “Concern for the environment needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” About a half-million metric tons of plastic microfibers, which never decompose, enter the ocean each year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Synthetic microfiber pollution is attributed to our clothing items and many other materials, which are made of polyester, nylon and other man-made fabrics. The pollution caused by the enormous amount of plastic microfibers in the environment is a significant societal problem. As the production of polyester and other synthetic fabrics/clothing continues to rise, the pollution will escalate. In order to solve this and other problems, we (individuals, community, business, industry, government) “need to be joined to a sincere love” for others and for the natural world.
“The commitment to solving the problems of society” is often embraced by just parts of society, since factors such as industrial production and economics are always part of the picture. Here are a few of the segments of society who recognize the problem of synthetic microfibers and are showing care for the greater good. The clothing companies, Adidas AG, Hennes & Mauritz AB, and Patagonia Inc., understand their role and responsibility in the microplastic pollution challenge. They are supporting research into materials and mechanisms to reduce the release of synthetic microfibers from clothing. A few state governments are considering laws that would require labels on clothes made from materials containing more than 50% synthetic fabrics. These labels would inform consumers of how the items shed plastic microfibers, especially during wash cycles. Since fleece clothing shed a tremendous amount of synthetic microfibers, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (in Britain) stopped issuing fleece to its staff.
The more society cares about environmental and public health problems, for one another and the earth, the quicker solutions are developed. Moreover, a return to greater respect and support of science is another important component in addressing environmental degradation. On the other hand, when business profits, materialism, and self-satisfaction are prioritized over the common good, society struggles to ensure clean air, clean water, healthy populations and ecosystems. We are now part of a plastic world – where we support the generation of materials, many only intended for single use, that never degrades. I am on a journey, an “unwavering commitment,” to reduce my purchase and use of plastics in every way possible and to encourage others to do the same.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.