As we develop this blog we plan to bring much more than the occasional trip report to the site. We already have a section of Top Tips for enjoying the outdoors, and this is the first of our Reviews, which we hope will include our favourite tried and tested pieces of gear, as well as new products that we think are of interest. The Guppy Friend laundry bag, which costs £25 and is available from Surfers Against Sewage, is something we've been trying for about a month, and in that time we've been getting the hang of using it, and finding out how it works.
What (and why?) is the Guppy Friend?
The Guppy friend is, in short, a bag designed to catch microfibres, that you put your synthetic (polyester, fleece etc) laundry in, before shoving it in the washing machine. If you've already heard of the scourge of microfibres then you may already understand why this is important, but concerns about the problem that microfibres present for our environment are only just becoming widely known. The problem is, that tiny pieces of fibre break off our clothes every time we launder them, and are washed in to our water systems. The concern about synthetic microfibres, is that like plastic, they persist in the environment for an unknown period of time. A 2017 IUCN report in to Primary Microplastics in the Oceans, estimates that 1.5 million tons of microplastics enter the oceans every year. Of these, 34.8% come from textiles. They slosh around the oceans and rivers, picking up toxins and entering the food chain. Some are so tiny they can even cross cell membranes. We have no idea at this stage what this means for human health but the potential problems are scary to say the least. For those of us that live in synthetic outdoor clothing, the realisation that we may be part of the problem is worrying. The Guppy Friend was invented by some German surfers to try and help solve the problem. It's probably only part of the picture- but the bag is intended to catch the microfibres in the wash, and stop them from going down the drain.
My extreme Guppy Friend test.
Before getting a Guppy Friend, I spoke to a few people who had already used them, and asked how they found them. "Easy" was the common response, but also "I think it works, although I can't see any microfibres in the bag". How to tell if it works? I decided to give it an extreme test, using an extremely old, and frankly environmentally diabolical, fleece blanket, that is so degraded, it leaves a fine mist of microfibres where ever it goes. The first problem I ran in to, is that the Guppy Friend is only supposed to be half filled when it is used. My blanket is pretty big (its a blanket) but I decided to make an exception this time, and hoped that I wouldn't destroy my washing machine.
After a cool wash (as recommended by Guppy Friend), I pulled the blanket out of the bag. It was dripping wet, the spin cycle seemed to have been completely ineffective. I've since learned that this is a consequence of overfilling the bag. A quick check around the seams revealed a horrifying amount of green fluff, all caught in the bag. Guppy Friend are keen to stress that you should never wash these away as it negates the whole point of the bag. Put them in the bin without delay!
What next for the blanket of doom?
These recommendation above about how to dispose of fibres might help answer a burning question that I have about what to do with the offending blanket. Should I continue to use it (microfibres)? Should I bin it (and add to the landfill burden) or return it to it's hiding place at the back of our airing cupboard? I decided to ask Twitter, who preferred the out of sight, out of mind option. For the moment, I'm hanging on to it, in case some form of redemption can be found. Creative ideas welcome...
Guppy Friend extended test.
Meanwhile, the Guppy Friend has seen a lot more normal use, and we've been getting the hang of it's little idiosyncracsies. After each wash, I run a tissue around the seams and wipe out the tiny microfibres. The main problem I have is due to the type of laundry that we generate- which is very heavy on the synthetic fibres, with lots of fleece, and technical outdoor gear. The guppy friend will only take about one set of thermals (tops and bottoms) and a light fleece. Any more than that and it affects the spin cycle. I've taken to putting what I think are likely to be the worst offenders in the bag, and running the rest through as normal. I've not tried using a second bag as yet- at £25 each it's quite an investment.
So what else can we as outdoor consumers do to prevent microfibre pollution from our laundry? Evidence is emerging that if we wash our gear a bit less, reduce the temperature, and slow the spin cycle, we can help reduce microfibre release. Buying good quality gear is also key- cheap fleeces that pill and bobble in the wash are releasing microfibres much more quickly. If buying new, then its worth considering biodegradeable alternatives where appropriate, such as merino wool, or biosynthetics like Tencel Lyocell.