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Sustainable Swimsuits??


School’s out, summer’s in. This all means that people will start to spend their days lounging at a pool, swimming to escape the heat, and tanning. Summer is finally here, and with it comes the horde of swimsuits everyone buys. At this moment, how many swimsuits are in your closet? Most likely more than one.


With a multitude of colors and patterns, swimsuits hit the shelves every year with new styles for consumers to buy. Like nearly any other clothing item, swimsuits are terrible for the environment. Even with sustainable and ethical production methods, every new swimsuit releases harmful microplastics into the environment to some extent.


 

The Issue with Swimsuits


All swimsuits release microplastics into the environment in some form. It is impossible for microplastics to not end up in our environment with current technology when swimsuits are worn, washed, produced, and discarded of.


Production


The production process is the first stage of microplastic release into the environment. Swimsuits are made with the idea that they have to withstand different types of water, the sun, heat, sunscreen, and anything else that could damage them. The harsh effects of chlorinated water or salt water paired with the sun can break down a poor-quality swimsuit incredibly quickly, resulting in the swimwear being thrown out after just a few uses. With the conditions swimwear must withstand, as well as the need for swimwear to be stretchy and moisture-wicking, swimwear producers turned to plastic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, and spandex. These fabrics release microplastics into the environment as they shed from regular use. Plastic is not biodegradable, so these microplastics remain in the environment forever.


Even with some brands attempting to be more environmentally friendly by using biodegradable fabrics to make other clothing items, there is no biodegradable option for performance-ready swimwear fabric, so they must use fabrics made from plastic. Because of this, many brands with sustainability initiatives use recycled synthetic fabrics rather than new plastic fabrics. However, this process can be costly and difficult, as the use of plastic blends in some swimwear fabrics makes it hard to recycle them. Dyes and other chemicals used to make swimwear colorful and patterned contribute to the unsustainability and difficulty of recycling swimwear. Large brands often forgo sustainability initiatives due to the difficulty of using recycled fabrics to make swimwear.


The sustainability initiatives of most sustainable swimwear brands include producing good-quality, durable swimwear out of recycled fabrics that will not need to be discarded after a few uses into a landfill. To improve the durability and stretch of swimwear, brands blend certain fibers into fabrics including Elastane, Xtra Life Lycra, and Roica (a more eco-friendly Elastane fabric). These fabrics allow swimwear to resist degradation so that swimwear can last up to 10 times longer than fabric unprotected by one of these fibers.


Swimsuit Usage

Even if most people own just a few pieces of swimwear, swimsuits are worn and washed over and over. Every time a piece of swimwear is worn into the water, or even simply worn outside, microplastics are released into the environment. Despite people’s best efforts to prevent microplastics from being released into the environment while wearing swimwear, the shedding of a swimsuit inevitably results in microplastics ending up in soil or in waters that will eventually end up in the ocean.


This microplastic pollution is made even worse by the process of washing swimwear. Simply throwing a swimsuit into the washing machine results in it releasing microplastics into the wash water which will eventually end up in the ocean. The cycle of the washing machine hastens the shedding of microplastics even more, as the rough motions physically pull microplastics off the fabric.


Gently handwashing a swimsuit in cold water also results in microplastics being released into the water used. Even with the use of a microplastic filter such as a Guppyfriend bag or Cora Ball to collect the microplastics coming off the swimsuit during the cleaning process, the microplastics still need to be disposed of somehow. Throwing out the microplastics collected again results in the microplastics ending up in a landfill where it will potentially leach into the ground and pollute the surrounding area. It is impossible to avoid microplastic release into the environment while wearing and washing a swimwear garment.


Discarding Swimsuits


Discarding a swimwear garment in an environmentally-friendly way is nearly impossible. As previously discussed, it is quite difficult to recycle swimwear garments due to their fabric composition often being a blend of various plastic fibers. Finding and sending swimwear to a recycling facility that can recycle swimwear is difficult due to the lack of properly equipped facilities. Even if a proper recycling facility was to be found, brands creating swimwear from recycled fabrics face the issue of their swimwear shedding 2.3 times more microplastics than general polyester.


Most consumers simply throw out their garments when their swimsuits have lived past their prime. These swimsuits end up in landfills where the plastics in the fabrics are slowly broken down into smaller microplastics that leach into the soil and water. Swimsuits may end up discarded in the ocean as well, contributing to the growing amount of trash in the ocean. Discarding swimwear in a sustainable way is no easy task.


Sustainable Swimwear Brands


While a truly sustainable swimwear piece is difficult to find due to the microplastics released into the environment in every part of a swimsuit’s life cycle, brands that use recycled plastic fabrics as part of their sustainability initiatives are more environmentally friendly than brands that use virgin plastic that contributes to the growing amount of plastic pollution in the world.


Summersalt is a brand that produces swimwear from recycled polyamide. The brand claims that their products are made from recycled textiles that possess four times the compression and five times the strength of other swimwear. The brand is size inclusive with sizes from XS-2X and considers themselves ethical due to their WRAP and BSCI certified production practices.


Patagonia is a brand that produces swimwear from recycled nylon and recycled polyester. The brand is size inclusive with sizes from XXS-XXL. Swimwear from Patagonia is performance-ready, as they claim to have a passion for activewear. Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged one percent of their sales to the preservation and restoration of the environment.


Vitamin A is a brand that produces swimwear from recycled nylon. The brand’s swimwear is inspired by ’70s beach glamour and is shipped in completely biodegradable packaging. The brand is size inclusive with sizes from XS-XXL. Vitamin A produces swimwear that is ideal for mixing and matching bikinis.


TomboyX produces swimwear from recycled polyester and OEKO-TEX certified materials for gender-neutral/gender-fluid swimwear. The brand is size inclusive with sizes from XS-6X. Swimwear from TomboyX is quick-drying and has UPF sun protection.


Londre produces swimwear from recycled plastic bottles for minimalist swimwear with a twist. Pieces from Londre are equipped to resist all the salt, sand, sweat, and other conditions they may face. The brand is size inclusive with sizes from XS-5XL.


 

Recap

During production, swimsuits are made using plastic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, or spandex, which is then mixed with another fiber such as Elastane (aka spandex), Roica (a more environmentally-friendly type of Elastane), or Xtra Life Lycra. This blend of plastics makes swimwear especially difficult to recycle.


The abundance of plastic sheds off swimwear to release microplastics into the environment when swimwear is worn and washed. When discarded, swimwear ends up in landfills or in the ocean due to the difficulty of recycling swimwear for its plastic to be reused.


Sustainable swimwear, despite being more environmentally-friendly than other swimsuits, is still harmful to the environment. However, brands such as Summersalt, Patagonia, Vitamin A, TomboyX, and Londre are preferable as compared to large brands that disregard sustainability due to its high cost and difficulty.


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Author: Karen Wong


Editor: Charlotte Wang


References


Swimming

Plastic

Plastic Pollution

Environment

Summer

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