Located near Centura Health in Avon right off of I-70. An innovative natural science learning campus for residents and visitors of the Eagle Valley. Free and open to the public.

318 Walking Mountains Lane, Avon, CO 81620

Located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola on Vail Mountain out of Lionshead Village, Vail. All visitors must have a pass to ride the gondola. Free and open to the public with valid gondola pass.
Nestled along Gore Creek near the Betty Ford Alpine Garden and Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail Village.
601 Vail Valley Drive, Vail, CO 81657

Curious Nature

Fleece Clothing & Micro-plastic Pollution

Posted by Walking Mountains Science Center on Jan 30, 2023 8:15:00 AM
Walking Mountains Science Center

Whether you are visiting or living here in Eagle County, it does not take long to understand the need to be prepared in the outdoors for quick and sometimes extreme changes in the weather. A key strategy to staying warm and comfortable in the mountains is wearing layers. For many of us during the winter, this means dawning a fleece of some kind. It is soft. It is breathable. It is the perfect layer on and off the slopes and some might even argue that fleece is the pinnacle of cozy clothing. Unfortunately, all that fuzzy comfort can have an often unseen consequence.

Fleece Cozy Layer

Fleece is staple piece of clothing in mountain wardrobe.

What does a fleece sweatshirt and a shaggy dog have in common? They both shed. When fleece clothing sheds it releases polyester microfibers, which can contribute to micro-plastic pollution. Micro-plastics are extremely small pieces of plastic, ranging from approximately 1 micrometer to 10 millimeters in size, which form through the degradation of larger plastic materials. As a pollutant, micro plastics are an increasing issue, especially in aquatic and marine environments as they can impact water chemistry, disrupt the food web, and bio-accumulate to toxic levels in larger organisms. It is not just within liquid water that micro-plastics are being discovered. Here in the Colorado high country, micro and even smaller nano-plastics are being increasingly found in the snowpack. And as we know, what is within the snowpack ends up in our rivers and lakes come spring and summer. Although the human health impact of micro-plastics is still largely unknown; protecting and preserving water quality is vital to our wellbeing and is worth protecting in and of itself.


Guppy Friend Wash Bag

Reenter your favorite fleece clothing and those comfortable yet potentially harmful polyester micro-fibers. You do not need to clear out your wardrobe of all fleece. There are a few methods for reducing the risk of producing apparel-based micro-plastic pollution. The first technique is probably the easiest. Wear your fleece more and wash it less. Air the garment out. Spot treat stains. Once the smell becomes too much to handle and it is time to throw your fleece in the wash, use cold water and hang it to dry. Additionally, when you wash your fleece, consider adding a barrier to spreading waterborne micro-plastics. Specialty filters can be added to washing machines and some newer washing machines come equipped with additional filtration. For many of us not in the market for a new washing machine, specialty bags, such as the Guppyfriend washing bag, are available to capture plastic microfibers in the wash. Simply place your garment in the bag, run through the wash and clean out the bag and properly dispose of the fiber build up within the bag in the trash. The final recommendation for reducing the amount of apparel based micro-plastic shedding is to consider clothing made of other and more natural materials. For example, wool/wool blends have come a long way from your granddad’s itchy sweater and can keep you warm and comfortable in all kinds of conditions. Take these steps and you can both enjoy the positive properties of fleece, while reducing the micro-plastics it sheds.

What is That? Ask a Naturalist!

Scott Dunn is the Community Program Manager at Walking Mountains Science Center. You will find him wearing the same fleece sweatshirt day in and day out. Just let him know if it smells too bad. He will eventually wash it.

Topics: Curious Nature

Walking Mountains Science Center

Written by Walking Mountains Science Center

Our mission is to awaken a sense of wonder and inspire environmental stewardship and sustainability through natural science education.