“Plastic” Clothes Rule in Winter

Poly Fleece" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by kellyhogaboom

I try to be environmentally sensitive. I recycle my aluminum cans and other aluminum products because it cuts the amount of energy needed to produce another can by 95%. I select unbleached, brown paper coffee filters for my Mr. Coffee because they work just as well and are destined to become coffee stained and discarded after one use. Bleach is useful, but comes with many evil environmental drawbacks.

One of the issues now being pushed by environmental activists around the globe is plastic pollution – particularly in the oceans and our Great Lakes. Sure, I hate to see flotsam and jetsam afloat or along the beaches, but trash and debris is only a portion of the problem. The real culprit, according to anti-plastic activists, is the nearly microscopic bits of plastic particles mixed in with the bigger, visible debris.

There are probably as many sources of these micro-plastic particles as there are uses for plastic. Some of the particles are small to begin with. Several years ago, environmentalists pushed through a “ban the micro-bead” law outlawing tiny plastic particles being added to cleaning products and toothpaste.

Most of the micro-plastic pollution, however, comes from the breakdown of macro-plastic things. Run over a plastic water bottle with your lawnmower and the bottle is on its way to becoming a micro-plastic particle floating down the Mississippi River.

So along with the old copies of this newspaper, empty Diet Coke cans and pickle jars, the few bottled water bottles I use at my home go into the recycling. I’m doing my part, except for one facet of my life. I’m not giving up my plastic clothes.

Don’t think plastic clothes such as donning a high-density polyethylene hard had or an emergency poncho made from a garbage bag. Think high-tech outdoor clothes.

Our forefathers wore leather and animal skins. Cotton or other natural fibers are popular, but unless they are dipped in wax, they have the water repellency of a sponge. Wool has long been touted as great for wearing outdoors because it can keep a person warm when it’s wet.

Have you ever worn a wet, wool shirt? Forget it being scratchy and heavy (even when dry), when it’s wet it weighs a ton!

Goose down is great (when it’s dry) and when you can find real goose down instead of just bird feathers. It’s okay if you don’t mind a coat so bulky it makes you look like the Michelin Man.

The high-tech wear now used by Mt. Everest climbers, North Pole trekkers, Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field in December as well as cold weather hunters and fishermen are made of plastic. There are no wool socks in Aaron Roger’s locker or on the Iditarod trail.

Nylon, rayon, Gore Tex and anything made with fibers with the first part of their name being “poly” – such as polyethylene or polypropylene are plastic. A cheap winter coat is insulated with poly-fill. An expensive winter coat is filled with Thinsulate. Both are plastic as is the satin-like lining inside and the rugged Cordura outer shell. Add a plastic zipper and pocket snaps and you are a walking example of wearing plastic in the winter.

All of these can get into the waste stream eventually if mishandled, improperly discarded or lost overboard to become one more part of our increasingly plastic-coated planet. But none of these are as prone to adding to the problem as garments made from “fleece” material. Fleece doesn’t come from a cuddly little lamb. It’s heritage is a chemical with the first name “poly.”

Plastic pollution experts have done studies and found each time a fleece jacket is washed about 700,000 microplastic particles break off the jacket, go down the drain and eventually end up where ever the rinse water from the washer goes – often into a lake, river or ocean. Should fleece or other plastic clothes be outlawed?

I certainly hope it isn’t, at least until a better alternative is developed. Even Dr. Sherri Mason, the leading researcher of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes agreed in a presentation of hers I attended. “We need to do everything we can to decrease or eliminate plastic pollution in the Great Lakes,” she said. “But don’t take away my fleece clothing in the winter.”

Everyone has to draw boundaries for their own behaviors. Mine is having to go back to cotton, wool and goose down winter clothes.

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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