Most pocket cloth diapers come with microfibre inserts, and if I can’t opt out of having them arrive at my doorstep, they just get tossed into a big bag and hidden in my closet. Many parents ask about repurposing them and there are a million different ideas, mostly based around cleaning.
What do I do with old microfibre inserts from cloth diapers?
I never touch them again. Partly because they give me the heebie jeebies, and partly because they are not so hot for the environment.
Microfibre has a dirty little secret – it sheds. That’s why if you ever buy brand new microfibre inserts and compare them to older ones they often look whiter, fluffier, and so much more alive than their older used counterparts.
A Microplastic is something smaller than 5mm in diameter.
- synthetic fibres count for most of the microplastics found in our waterways and this comes from polyester, nylon and other synthetic textiles. Synthetics dominate the textile industry, and the majority of this synthetic is polyester
- Polyster fleece is one of the biggest culprits to shedding – which probably accounts for the reason stay dry diapers look terrible after a few washes.
- Synthetic fibres just don’t biodegrade.
- Estimated 5-14 million tonnes might be released yearly.
How do cloth diapers shed and end up in the water systems?
The dryer does catch the bulk of the fibres released from any garments, luckily that gets caught up in the trap. However, some fibres still shed in the washing machine process. Because our washing machines don’t have filters this small amount is flushed out into the sewers and eventually our water systems.
The numbers from studies like this one suggest the numbers are so small I’m not even sure how to say a number that tiny, but we add that tiny number up 100 times, we suddenly have an impact. And if every single one of us washes a fleece blanket regular, that problem continues to multiply. This is a tiny issue in our homes but globally it magnifies into a bigger problem. The fibre loss is not just here at home but begins back in the manufacturing process. Textile production both synthetic and natural impacts our environment, and while there are repucussions for natural fibre production, synthetics just don’t biodegrade.
It really sucks because this type of pollution is incredibly hard to see and relate with. When we see our garbage can fill up with disposable diapers we see that relationship. But we don’t see is the impact on micro organism as they consume tiny little particles of synthetic material. We also dont’ immediately see that impact on the larger eco-system in the way we see other impacts.
How does microfiber pollution then impact the environment?
Tiny little things eat the microplastic, and then those tiny little things get eaten and eventually bigger and bigger things.
Plastic is concerning because there can be a lot of unknowns with plastic consumption but it’s claimed to create toxicity which can hinder overall health and well being of anything too much things that should be in the body or organism.
One of the concerning topics is that PCBs and PAHs (remember those from disposable diapers?) still exist in our natural environments. These harmful chemicals like microplastics and attach to them. This starts the food chain of these chemicals begin to impact the health and well being of larger animals, in fish-eating eating humans, down the road. But mostly, this area is vastly unknown. We supsect problems because of the nano particle break downs, but we really don’t know the true impact.
How to limit Microplastic Pollution from Cloth Diapers?
First, is to just not use microfibre cloth diaper inserts. Don’t even bother repurposing them because then you have to wash them and start this cycle. Where possible say no, don’t order them, and swap in a natural fibre. You can often buy natural fibre inserts for cheaper or repurpose 100% cotton textiles for a diaper.
Reducing your use of synthetic materials in your life and this includes the stay dry layers in pocket diapers or that are added to other textiles. This includes my favourite Simplee Diaper, and this includes fleece liners for diapers that you wash between uses. There are so many places synthetics and hide and if you’re just starting out then you can think about how you might cloth diaper with less synthetics. If you’re fully stashed then maybe think about other ways you can shift in your lifestyle to use less synthetic textiles, maybe it means reconsidering a garment purchase.
Favouring natural fibre textiles and garments. They are not immune to shedding but they at least release a fibre that is less likely to create a toxicity for tiny organisms that bigger organisms need for survival.
We can also talk to our friends and family about these choices, and when someone is considering a cloth diaper you can encourage them to consider a cotton or hemp textile over a microfibre textile.
Textiles like Bamboo are a considered a rayon or viscose product. They seem to be nothing super certain besides skepticism. This product is likely to break down quicker than pure synthetics because it is a natural polymer but at the end of the day it’s not a straight natural fibre anymore.
Consider adding a laundry catch-all to your machine like the Guppy Friend Bag or the Cora Ball. I actually ordered a Cora Ball because the Guppy Friend Bag needs you to wash the items in it and it’s a small bag and cloth diapers are big. These contraptions wont catch massive amounts but they catch small amounts and it might feel not worthwhile, but it’s making a small impact. Remember this is micro pollution.
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