We all know plastic is a problem in our oceans and waterways. Bottles, straws, and cups - to name a few- are polluting our environment and ecosystems. But it's not just the plastics you see that are harmful, it's the plastic that you can't. We’re talking about microplastics- tiny plastic bits that evolve from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as bottles, and the shedding of your clothes. Yep, you read that correctly, your clothes…. Clothing made of polyester, nylon, and lycra are called synthetic fibers, and are essentially made from plastics.
When we wash synthetic clothing, microplastics (also known as microfibers in fashion) shed from our clothes and are flushed away at the end of the washing cycle. These microplastics, often invisible to the naked eye, bypass the filtration processes and make their way into our rivers and seas. Because plastics do not biodegrade or break down in the environment, microplastics are often mistaken for food and ingested by sea creatures, who are eaten by larger fish, and the sequence continues until, you guessed it - it lands on your plate…
So what do we do?! For starters, wearing clothes made of natural fibers, such as organic cotton, that biodegrade. Washing less, is another example. But when a reported 60% of clothes are made of synthetic fibers, chances are you have something in your closet that sheds microplastics during wash… So we met up with the team at Guppyfriend to learn more about their mission in reducing plastic pollution - one laundry load at a time.
TSS: Hello! Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. Let’s start by sharing your name and relationship with Guppyfriend?
GF: We are Oliver and Alex from Germany and Malte, based in San Diego. We founded Guppyfriend and lead our US activities.
TSS: What were you up to prior to GuppyFriend and what lead to the shift?
GF: We all have different backgrounds and experiences from design, to material, and business science. We established agencies and worked for large enterprises.
At some point, we did not want to make any more compromises, with respect to sustainability, and founded Guppyfriend to raise awareness about one of the most significant environmental problems of our time: Microplastic pollution. Yes, it’s linked to the climate crisis, too.
TSS: What inspired you to create Guppyfriend? Was there a specific “lightbulb” moment?
GF: In Germany, we have a clothing brand where we produce plastic-free, locally made clothing and closed-loop shoes. But we also offer outdoor clothing from other manufacturers in our retail stores - which are mainly made from synthetic materials. We learned about the microplastic problem through a marine biologist at one of our club events. Through our own tests and discussions, with additional experts, the extent and the catastrophic effects on people and the environment became clear to us. Since almost no one had heard of microplastic pollution from clothing, we wanted to share our findings with as many people as possible and provide practical, everyday solutions for reducing microplastics.
TSS: What was the journey like in developing Guppyfriend?
GF: In the beginning, the bigger textile companies laughed at us and our Guppyfriend Washing Bag. Later, the same companies tried to convince us to sell them the patent!
We work on eco innovations every day and in this case, too, it quickly became clear that we needed a pragmatic solution that would enable everyone to take immediate action against microplastic pollution.
A washing bag – to start with- seemed to us to be the most pragmatic solution to address the problem. When using the Washing Bag, everyone inevitably must look at the care label to see what an item of clothing is made of and reflect on whether it belongs in the washing bag and which detergent should be used. The Guppyfriend Washing Bag reminds us every day to buy less. But even more, it also reminds us to change our washing behavior so that the microfiber discharge is minimized.
TSS: What were the challenges in creating the Guppyfriend Washing Bag?
GF: In the beginning, nobody believed in the idea.
TSS: So…. what is a Guppyfriend and how does it work?
GF: Using a Guppyfriend Washing Bag is super simple and doesn’t add any complexities to your laundry routine. You simply separate your synthetic material clothes such as Nylon, Polyester, Spandex and place them in the Washing Bag. You then put the Washing Bag into the washer, add your non-synthetic clothes for example Cotton, Hemp, Wool and wash as usual. After the wash, you empty your textiles from the Washing Bag and then remove the retained fibers from the inside of the filter fabric by hand and dispose of them in the residual waste.
The Guppyfriend Washing Bag works in two ways: One, In the washing machine, the main drivers for fiber shedding are abrasion and friction in the drum. By separating your synthetic material clothes such as Nylon, Polyester, Spandex, and placing them in the Washing Bag, you reduce mechanical forces and your clothes therefore loose significantly less fibers in the first place. This also means that you protect your clothes. They will look new for longer and you extend their life. And two, the microfibers that still do shed, are then reliably retained inside of the bag and therefore do not pollute the wastewater.
TSS: Why is this important?
GF: Most of our clothing is made from synthetic fibers and the percentage is only increasing. Synthetic textiles made of e.g. polyester, nylon, or polyacrylic have advantages, but their microplastic particles pollute nature. Synthetic textiles are a major source of microplastics in the environment This is because synthetic textiles lose microplastic fibers when washed and worn. Scientists from the University of California in Santa Barbara have calculated that the daily amount of plastic fibers released into the wastewater by washing synthetic clothing in a city of 100,000 inhabitants is equivalent to about 15,000 plastic bags thrown into the sea.
TSS: How effective is a Guppyfriend? And how is it tested?
GF: The bag was tested by scientific institutes and the industry alike. We started testing in our bathrooms and by now have done countless tests with institutes around the world, for example the University of California in Santa Barbara as part of a Patagonia research program, Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology, the German Textile Research Institute and various NGOs and textile companies from fashion and outdoor. The Guppyfriend washing bag reduces fiber loss during washing in two ways: Compared to washing without the Guppyfriend, 86% fewer fibers shed from synthetic textiles, and the lifetime of the apparel is extended. The fibers that still shed are reliably filtered out.
TSS: The Guppyfriend Washing Bag is made of monofilament fiber. What the heck is that and how does that not contribute to the microplastic problem?
GF: Monofilaments are more like stable sticks rather than threads, which are made from several fibers and are typically used for textiles. This means that the bags do not lose any microfibers themselves.
TSS: Why the name Guppyfriend Washing bag, and what does it mean?
GF: To aquatic animals like Guppies, the microplastic particles appear like food and are consumed. This can result in gastrointestinal infection and blockages, reproductive problems, and starvation. For the brand name, Guppies stand for the entirety of marine life we are trying to protect with our Guppyfriend solutions.
TSS: Where is Guppyfriend made, and how do you ensure ethical and sustainable production?
GF: We currently produce the bags in Europe and China. We have personally visited each of our manufacturing partners and make sure they are certified and work according to our standards.
TSS: Sales of Guppyfriend supports the nonprofit STOP! Micro Waste. Tell us more about the nonprofit and your partnership?
GF: STOP! Micro Waste is a non-profit organization that we initiated in 2017. We link education with activities in nature to raise awareness about (micro)plastic pollution. We share our (micro)plastic knowledge based on our research findings, experiences, and scientific papers. Our Train-the-Trainer program enables school children and company representatives to share the acquired knowledge with their peers, colleagues and customers. Raising awareness about microplastic pollution is fundamental, but at the same time we need hands-on solutions. Therefore, we want to encourage people to reflect and adapt their own consumption behavior and daily rituals; and to inspire them to develop their own STOP! station against microplastic pollution.
You can find more information HERE:
TSS: What’s next for Guppyfriend?
GF: Our mission here at Guppyfriend is to raise awareness for microplastic pollution and offer practical and effective solutions for consumers to reduce their environmental footprint. Microfiber pollution from washing is one aspect and our current focus, but we are working on many other products designed to minimize microplastic pollution in your household.
TSS: Anything additional you would like to share about Guppyfriend?
GF: If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at our “Ten for the Ocean” Wash Guide. These are 10 simple washing tips that help us change our washing behavior and reduce the microplastic pollution in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Using a Guppyfriend Washing Bag for synthetic textiles is on that list, but the other recommendations also apply to your laundry in general.
TSS: Thank you so much for your time.
To learn more about Guppyfriend, or to purchase a bag, click HERE.
Sustainable and Environmental Intern
*Because this interview was performed via email, some answers were edited for clarity