Microplastics & Fashion Industry

Plastics are made from Polymers derived from Petroleum by-products. Plastics are light in weight, less in cost, and perceived as a good alternative material for many applications. Plastics once considered as a Solution for many Products, Packaging, etc., are now a major challenge to environmental protection and conservation. The challenge with plastics is the method of their Disposal and degradable property.  If they are not properly disposed or recycled, they may end up in the environment where they stay for centuries and degrade into smaller and smaller pieces.
These small pieces (typically smaller than 5mm) are called microplastics and they are of concern. These Microplastics are solid and may contain toxic substances.
In general, Microplastics are formed in two ways, 
  1. Disintegrated Substance from Larger plastic materials such as Car tyres, Synthetic textiles, Plastic containers and Furniture etc out of wear and tear. (termed as Unintentionally formed Microplastics)
  2. Added microplastic beads deliberately into substances such as Facial & Body Scrubs. (termed as Intentionally formed Microplastics)

These Microplastics have been widely found in

  1. Marine Ecosystem,
  2. Freshwater Ecosystem
  3. Terrestrial Ecosystems
  4. Food
  5. Drinking water.

Source of Microplastics: 

The release of microplastics by wahsing of synthetic clothing is 4th in the above graph. The release of microplastics into the above leads to pollution of our ecosystems and food chains and causes health-related issues to humans. Considering the Environmental & People health, several EU Member states have enacted/proposed a ban on the intentional use of Microplastics in consumer products.

The bans concern mainly use of microbeads in cosmetics that are rinsed off after use, where the microplastics are used as abrasive and polishing agents.

The EU-ECHA report claims that every year about,

  • 42,000 Tonnes of Microplastics released into the Environment by various products of various segments at Use.
  • The single largest source of pollution is “Granular infill material” used in Artificial Turf Pitches, about 16,000 tonnes of them are released into the environment.
  • The release of unintentionally formed microplastics (when larger pieces of plastic wear and tear) are estimated as 1,76,000 tonnes a year to the European surface waters.

The ECHA is expected to prevent the release of 5,00,000 tonnes of microplastics over 20 years. The releases of unintentionally formed microplastics in the aquatic environment are being considered by the Commission as part of its Plastics Strategy and the new Circular Economy Action Plan. The apparel and textiles industry is a major contributor to the problem along with consumer products.

35% of all microplastic pollution comes from synthetic textiles. The EU is taking the first steps to address the problem with a new restriction on microplastics which could start in 2021.

However, The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) proposed a new restriction on the intentional use of microplastics in products. This applies to products such as fertilizer, cleaning and laundry products, and cosmetics, among others. Microplastics are added to these products to improve viscosity, appearance or stability. The EU member states will likely vote on the new microplastics regulation in 2021. If they approve it, the use of microplastics in many products will be restricted under REACH.

The impact on the apparel and textiles industry will probably be limited in the short-term. The above-mentioned ECHA restriction only applies to microplastics that are intentionally added to consumer products. The new regulation does not apply to products that shed microplastics during use or disposal.

However, the apparel and fashion industries must start to work on the material Longitivity and initiatives to address the release of microplastics into the environment. Richard Thompson, a marine biology professor who invented the term “Microplastics” shares that, apparel and textiles made with synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon, acrylic release microplastics while washing and drying them. In one of his studies, he claims that on average the washing operation in domestic use can release up to 7,00,000 fibers. These smallest fibers reach their way into Rivers and then to Oceans. Eventually, these are eaten up by fish and end up on consumers’ plates.

The long-term effects of Microfibers on the health of Marine life and Consumers are still under research, the obvious impacts would be the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. Recent studies claim that the average person may eat 50,000 microplastic particles every year and breathe.

Possible Solutions to address the Crisis (Product Manufacturing & Use):

  • Use of Filaments instead of Short Staple fiber spun yarn
  • Yarn dying instead of garment dying;
  • Coated yarns;
  • Avoiding yarns and fabrics that have a high shedding-rate, such as polyester fleece;
  • Laser cutting
  • Coating and pre-washing garments.
  • Use of washing machines at full load
  • Washing at low temperatures;
  • Using a microfibre filter at the drain of the machine.
  • Educate the customer on Proper disposal and recycling.

The brands and manufacturers should prepare for the possible solutions to adopt, EU will take measures in the coming years to control this type of pollution.

One of the Research report claims that the total release of fibers from the washing of an average load (5.4 kg machine) is therefore calculated at between 0.52 Grams

Expected Scenarios:

  1. A test standard to measure the rate of fiber release during cloth washing & Tumble Drying. Such test standards will improve the Physical properties required at End-use.
  2. With the Standards, the maximum allowable Fiber shedding can be set.
  3. An Exclusive Voluntary Lable for fiber release from the washing and including Instruction on Handling, Environmental Information to influence buying decisions
  4. I Wish no brands will propose a 3rd party Test certificate for this Micro Plastics Shedding and increase the burden to the Manufacturers

Courtesy/Reference:

  1. UNEP
  2. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/
  3. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/
  4. https://www.sapea.info/
  5. https://echa.europa.eu/hot-topics/microplastics

One comment

  • This information should go to whole govt’s who can take the initiative and stop spoiling
    The world 🌎🌍

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