Wash or waste? A microplastics dilemma


Hannah’s recent post about stained clothes is on my mind.

It’s Saturday morning and George is out at work, cleaning the pub.  I’m wondering what kind of cleaning cloths he’ll bring home today. I know it doesn’t sound like something worth wondering about, but it has become a source of uncertainty for me, and could easily turn into a source of (mild) friction.

Before you get the wrong idea – he’s not stealing cleaning cloths. This isn’t some weird version of stealing the towels from the hotel bathroom.  He’s bringing them home to wash, so that they get re-used rather than thrown out. Every day, he brings home cotton tea towels, microfibre cloths and J-cloths that would otherwise go into the landfill-destined bin after just one use.

cleaning cloths in a laundry basket

Now I’m completely with him on re-use (that’s probably obvious, given the purpose of Waste Stories).  I’m not completely sold on having a bag of damp cloths that smell of a combination of beer and the unpleasantly sweet scent of hospitality-grade cleaner as a permanent fixture in my washing-machine cupboard, but I really don’t like the idea of things out after using them once. And at least they don’t smell of urinal.

So, washing the cloths makes complete sense to me. But where our opinions diverge is the J-cloths.  I don’t want them going through the washing machine.  I’m fine with rinsing them in boiling water and soak them in some disinfectant (and once my rosemary plants are a bit bigger, we’ll be using our own home-made brew).  But my guess (and I admit it’s a guess) is that they shed millions of microplastics if they go through a machine wash cycle.  I think we’ve reached an agreement on this (although I suspect a few occasionally creep into a machine load when I’m not looking).

The problem is that we differ in our judgements of the point at which re-use gets trumped by microplastics risk. George wants to keep using them til there’s no use left in them. The bag he brought home yesterday included this one:

an exceptionally tatty J-clothWorn through, shredded and, I’m assuming, shedding every time he dips it into the cleaning fluid or rubs it round a cistern, let alone when I try cleaning it out or George sneaks it into the washing machine.

I really don’t know: what’s the right thing to do?

One thought on “Wash or waste? A microplastics dilemma

  1. Very thought-provoking post, thank you. Made me feel a bit guilty, tbh.
    There are special nets you can use in your washing machine to trap microplastics.

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