Calls for fashion industry to act on microfibres

Calls for fashion industry to act on microfibresFashion companies and other members of the textile industry are being called upon by Dutch fashion line G-Star and marine pollution campaign group the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) to address plastic microfibres.

According to the PSF, the machine washing of clothes is a big source of plastic pollution in oceans, with small plastic fibres – microfibres – shed by synthetic garments being washed through water treatment plants into waterways

Research carried out as part of the group’s Mermaids Ocean Clean Wash campaign, co-financed by the Life+ 2013 programme of the European Union, suggests that polyester, acrylic and nylon items are the biggest culprits, with an acrylic scarf shedding 300,000 fibres per wash and a polyester fleece jacket losing almost one million fibres every time it is washed.

The research was carried out by the PSF itself, as well as the National Research Council (NCR) from Italy, and LEITAT and Polysistec from Spain.

Much like microbeads, the tiny pieces of plastic found in many cosmetic products that have been banned in the USA and are currently being investigated by the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee, these materials can enter the food chain, as fish and other marine organisms can mistake these fibres for food. According to the research carried out for the campaign, 65 per cent of shrimp catches in the North Sea contain synthetic fibres, while there is one microplastic particle found in every gramme of mussel meat.

Developing solutions to the release

Since 2013, G-Star has partnered with sustainable fabric company Bionic Yarn, co-founded by rapper and music producer Pharrell Williams, who also became Co-Owner of G-Star in February. Bionic Yarn creates denim ranges out of recycled ocean plastic and the partnership also created the RAW for the Oceans line. G-Star says that in 2015 it used an estimated two million plastic bottles and 1,000 tonnes of plastic debris in its products, and states that its aim is for the recycled fabric to be used in all of its denim collections by the end of 2016.

Now, the company, alongside the PSF, is calling for other fashion companies, washing machine manufacturers and the textile industry to support the Ocean Clean Wash project. The signatories of the initiative will agree to contribute to the development of ‘one or more innovative solutions’ to prevent the release of plastic fibres from garments in the future, such as fabrics that do not release microfibres or washing machine filters that capture the released fibers.

LEITAT Technological Center in Barcelona will be collaborating in the initiative to research the technical feasibility of the solutions proposed. 

In the meantime, the Ocean Clean Wash campaign says that washing machine users can reduce the amount of microfibres shed during cycles by filling the machine up, using washing liquid instead of powder, using a fabric softener and washing at a low temperature.

Alliance needed to ‘turn the tide’

Commenting on the need to take action, Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, said: “If you imagine that every day a couple of billion people around the world wash their clothing and that almost every item of clothing contains plastic nowadays, you can easily see why it is imperative to deal with this cause of the plastic soup immediately. G-Star is the first fashion brand that recognises and supports the need for innovation.”

Frouke Bruinsma, Corporate Responsibility Director at G-Star, added: “With RAW for the Oceans, we were the first to make denim from recycled ocean plastic and we are now starting to completely replace the 10 per cent conventional polyester in our collection with recycled plastic. We want to continue to create progress through sustainable innovation and join forces with the Plastic Soup Foundation to battle the microfibre problem. Only a strong alliance of dedicated stakeholders around the world can turn the tide. Everyone is welcome to join us.”

More information on the project can be found at the Mermaids Ocean Clean Wash website.