Are We Getting Too Fleeced by Fleece?

With fall weather around the corner, and back to school shopping in mind, I asked my daughters in-law if the children needed anything.  “A new fleece jacket,” said Karen, mother of Uri, 16 months.

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.”

I happily ordered a jacket for Uri from LL.Bean and one for his cousin, Meira, nearly 1 year, too. The older grandson didn’t need one, his mother said. 

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.

Wow.

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?

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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31 Responses to Are We Getting Too Fleeced by Fleece?

  1. The picture of your grandson: He looks so wise like he’s thinking “go ahead, take that picture, I know it’s important to you…there now feel better”?

    Like

  2. Great picture. Wow, what is the answer. Soft cotton, bamboo, hemp. Are these warm fabrics and are they soft enough? What a dilemma. I don’t like fleece because if it is not well made, it gets rough on the inside because it forms little balls the more it is washed. The good news is that kids outgrow the garment.

    Like

  3. Barbara Klein says:

    You can’t win! You Know where I stand on the natural fibers, but it’s hard to convince others.
    Your favorite Mom.

    Like

  4. Karen R-W says:

    Wow great post! I had no idea that fleece destroyed the environment. Maybe a new eco-friendly material will be Nathan’s next project.

    p.s. Cute grandkid! He must have such blessed parents 🙂

    Like

  5. Essie Bruell says:

    As a knitter I have handled most fibers, and I am heavily prejudiced toward animal fibers and organic cotton. The rayons from bamboo, soy and other plant sources have a ways to go before they are produced in an ecologically sound way. This news about fleece and its shedding of tiny plastic contaminants just reinforces my current preferences.

    Like

  6. Leslie Carno-Harf says:

    WOW. That is enlightening, overwhelming and depressing…You would think that recycling the plastic would be a good thing…Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  7. Letty Sue Albert says:

    Your grandson is soooooo adorable! I am for natural, by-the-by

    Like

  8. zannyro says:

    I’m thinking plastic is one of the worst mistakes we’ve made 😦

    Like

  9. Patti Winker says:

    There has got to be something on the market that’s natural, yes? No? I have bought baby gifts made of bamboo and soy, but nothing really heavy weight for cold days; more like sleepers, etc. Do they make lightweight, soft wool things for babies?

    Here’s my eye opener about the dangers of fleece:

    I have a fleece robe and when I washed and dried it the other day I noticed the lint trap in the dryer was sparkling. I realized my plastic robe was shedding. So, yes, I do believe it opened my eyes to the dangers of plastic… again. That plastic was not only washed down the drain but was also released into the air through my dryer vent. Miniscule particles, perfect for inhaling. EEK!

    My takeaway is this: I guess reducing the use of plastic would help eliminate the need to recycle it into clothing or what-have-you. I have already given up buying water in plastic bottles. I filter my tap water and pour it into glass or stainless bottles to drink out of.

    Yeah, we don’t want to bundle our kids and grandkids up like Ralphie on A Christmas Story, but then again, we don’t want to saturate our water and air with plastic particles.

    Like

    • Essie Bruell says:

      I am a knitter. There are many natural fibers that are suitable for children, including lightweight, washable wools. Some organic cottons come in fluffy, thicker versions that are appropriate for winter, too. You can find handmade examples on sites like etsy.com, and commercial versions in slightly higher end stores. It just takes a little label reading.

      Like

  10. Patti Winker says:

    Oh, and Uri is such a cuddle bug! Those cheeks are just made for kissing! 😉

    Like

  11. Had NO idea! Very enlightening. Such a conundrum now: we have 2-3 fleeces (each) in my family and are very tied to them! However, we see ourselves as environmentalist! Ouch. Very interesting piece.

    Like

  12. Cotton works. I had no idea fleece was plastic and let out plastic into our environment. Wow!

    Like

  13. CurlsnSkirls says:

    Your link to the Sierra Club article didn’t work, even after I added the colon after “http.”
    I would like to read this article, particularly since searching their site for Polartec I found nothing but adverts for Polartec being used in outdoor gear.

    By the way, fleece can be made of different fibers, including 100% cotton.
    One should read the label!

    Thanks!

    Like

  14. CurlsnSkirls says:

    Thanks for the updated url.
    Author’s name listed as Dashka Slater; tidbit of info from a “study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology” of which there are several so-named pubs listed online, so no idea from whence the information cometh originally.

    Like

  15. This is definitely an eye-opener. Who would have thought? Thank you for this info.
    By the way, your grandson is adorable. As the grandmother of six, I know how delightful grandchildren are. Happy Grandparents Day September 9!

    Like

  16. I saw that you are following my blog. Many thanks!!

    Like

  17. Jean says:

    I had no idea about the residual “fluff” from fleecy garments. Well, all more the reason for those of us who have fleecy garments, is to wear them well and wash them when we really need to. The other option is to buy smoother polyester sports jackets. But I would hate to wear that underneath a jacket and sweat up/or stink up.

    We have gotten away from wool sweaters which is another alternative. I still wear a high quality ski sweater underneath when I snowshoe in the mountains.

    I guess your moniker, cycling grandma is a lead-in: do you cycle regularily?

    Like

    • There’s really nothing like the fleece and other man-made fibers for sports. But when I’m not cycling, skiing, etc. I love natural fibers– wool sweaters, silk scarves, cotton t-shirts!

      Like

  18. Terri says:

    FORCE THE CHILDREN TO BE ITCHY! Suffering is good for the soul. Heck, I grew up being forced to wear wool… no one cared when *I* screamed from the itching.

    Like

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