Questions for “Washing your jeans too much might pose risks to the environment”

a photo of a hand putting a pair of blue jeans in a washer

Washing clothes loosens tiny fibers that flow down the drain and into rivers, lakes and oceans. Researchers recently found denim fibers in the Arctic Ocean, far from most washing machines.

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To accompany “Washing your jeans too much might pose risks to the environment


Before Reading:

1. How many items of clothing do you own made out of denim? What is denim made from?

2. Lately, many scientists have been exploring the polluting aspects of laundry lint. Why might it a potential concern for the environment? Do all clothes produce lint of equal concern to these scientists, or do you think it’s just certain fabrics?

During Reading:

1.  What share of the world’s population wears denim?

2.  What is the denim in blue jeans made from, and what gives it that traditional blue color?

3.  Where in the environment did Sam Athey’s team find denim fibers? How did they know it was denim fibers they were seeing?

4.  What share of fibers in the samples they were screening came from denim?

5.  How might concerns about microplastics in the environment point to potential risks from denim fibers?

6.  How many fibers can a pair of blue jeans release into the rinse water with each wash, based on measurements by the University of Toronto team? What share of those polluting fibers might a wastewater treatment plant remove from the water?

After Reading:

1.  Is the fiber-pollution issue a problem due to laundering or that washing machines just send the pollutants out into the environment, uncontrolled? How would you deal with curbing fiber pollution in the world’s waterways?

2.  How do studies such as these make you think about the clothing that you (and your family) buy? What kind of research would you do (if you had the skills and equipment) to identify the relative pollutant risks of one type of clothing or cleaning technique over another?