Fleece on Earth: Christmas Onesie Woes

The Christmas Onesie has become a staple gift in our house.  Who doesn’t love finding something snuggly, soft and colourful under the tree?  Best of all, they’re cheap to buy, so what’s not to love?  Well, here goes …

The Plastic Soup Foundation, based in the Netherlands, reports that synthetic garments shed microplastic fibres into the air around us, as well as polluting the oceans every time we wash them.  “More than one-third of the microplastics in the ocean come from synthetic clothing,” says the Foundation, and these pollutants then end up in our drinking water and our food.  (Plymouth University research suggests acrylic may be the worst culprit, releasing nearly 730,000 microfibres per wash.) 99% of the world’s population is breathing air that doesn’t meet WHO standards and contains pollutants, up to 1/3 of which can be plastics.  In our homes, microplastics are present in domestic dust, shed from synthetic furnishings, carpets etc as well as our clothes. 

This poses a threat to our health and immune systems.  The foundation reports: “Inhaled microplastic particles can be absorbed into the lung tissue. As a response, important cells in the immune system, so called dendritic cells, will engulf the plastic particles. Dendritic cells … lack the tools to break down plastic particles. But they try, and fail, and keep trying. This … causes significant inflammation. Chronic inflammation is known to be a leading cause of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes.”

What’s really disappointing is the number of high-street shops which boast about their sustainability credentials – their net-zero targets; their cotton certification schemes; their use of recycled materials – whilst making no mention of their liberal stocks of problematic polyester, or any commitment to reduce the resulting plastic pollution in our air or water.

Concerned Christmas shoppers might forego the bright and fuzzy pleasures of a fleecey onesie in favour of more the muted and less sumptuous cotton jersey option, but let’s be honest: these probably won’t draw the same squeals of delight from the kids.  One year I presented them as “customisable”, along with fabric paints, but the end result wasn’t impressive.  Those looking for a high-impact gift will be irresistibly drawn to the more attractive patterns and textures of synthetic options.  Others will reach for what’s familiar and – crucially – affordable, either not knowing or not engaging with the consequences; there’s nothing like “having no choice” to remove your sense of agency.   And thus we come ultimately to the realisation that cheap clothing contributes to health inequality: all the illnesses mentioned above are more prevalent amongst people on low incomes, and are factors in the shocking gap in healthy life expectancy between those with more choices, and those with fewer.

The Plastic Soup Foundation has more information about all this, including advice for how to minimise shedding from your fleece clothing, and if you have found any great alternatives to fleece onesies, please do let me know!

Mary Sherwood

(Photo by Tania Melnyczuk on Unsplash)