By Melinda Munson

Every time Skagway residents wash laundry, plastic microfibers from synthetic clothes get washed down the drain. These microfibers are eventually absorbed by sea life, working their way into the human food chain.

According to Reuben Cash, environmental coordinator for Skagway Traditional Council (STC), one piece of synthetic clothing will shed 700,000 fibers in one wash cycle.

“That’s a problem you can’t throw a single solution at,” he said.

Reuben, along with Sarah Cash, STC program assistant, hosted two Zoom classes in August to show Skagwegians how to wash laundry more sustainably.

The pair retaped the class sans participants for privacy reasons. The course is now available on Youtube.

Sarah demonstrated how to make laundry detergent with three ingredients: borax, washing soda and hand soap, all of which come in paper or cardboard boxes. According to Sarah, homemade detergent takes less water to manufacture, doesn’t come in a plastic container and avoids ingredients which lead to “chronic aquatic toxicity.”

“Any substance you put in an environmental system is going to take its toll,” Sarah warned, reminding class members to use the smallest amount of homemade detergent possible.

Reuben outlined three additional steps environmentally conscious consumers can use to minimize their impact on the watershed.

Go big. Large loads of laundry produce less microfibers as the clothes have a smaller space to agitate.

Keep cool. Hotter temperatures create more microfibers. Wash loads on cold water, which will also save energy.

Quality over quantity. Newer clothes release more microfibers than older ones. Buy high quality clothes and keep them as long as possible. 

Sarah also recommended replacing single use dryer sheets (made out of polyester, a type of plastic) with wool laundry balls.

The STC gifted laundry kits to everyone who participated in the online class. The kits included wool dryer balls, a batch of homemade soap and a Cora Microfiber Laundry Ball, a simple device made from recycled plastic which filters and traps microfibers in the washing machine.

View the class at