Fleece, the miracle fiber made from recycled plastic bottles, is the fabric of choice for parents: it’s machine washable, unshrinkable, holds colors and indestructible. Sudden spills of juice and other fluids can be wiped off and the jacket dries fast. And it’s inexpensive.
Polarfleece, or Polartec, first invented in 1981 by Malden Mills, a textile company in Lawrence, Mass, revolutionalized cold weather wear. Gone was the concept of wool layers, topped by a heavy oilskin parka. Patagonia, the California-based outdoor sports clothing manufacturer perfected the fabric; it doesn’t pill or absorb odors, is soft, lightweight, and wicks away moisture. The fabric permeated the market—who doesn’t own a fleece of some sort? In 1998, Time Magazine named Polartec fleece “One of the hundred great things of the 20th century.”
Yet my purchase made be think about a small column in the fall issue of Sierra magazine.
Yes, this superhero fabric has changed how we dress. But at what cost?
Every time we toss a fleece garment into the washing machine, tiny bits of plastic are released, and drained into the ground and water supply. They travel through sewage treatment plants, landing on coastlines and into the oceans.
“When researches sifted through sand collected from 18 beaches on six continents, they found acrylic and polyester fibers in every sample. The fibers get eaten by mollusks and then move up the food chain with potentially toxic results,” wrote the article’s author, mentioned only by the initials, D.S.
Kids don’t want to wear wool. Too itchy and scratchy. Parents want easily washable children’s clothes. Athletes don’t want heavy parkas when they can wear lightweight pullovers that absorb sweat and dry fast.
What’s the answer? Natural fabrics? Eliminate plastics all together?