Microplastics: Fashion’s impact on the world’s oceans
Thirty five percent of all microplastics realeased into the world’s oceans come from synthetic textiles such as polyester, acrylic and elastane, according to a report sent by several NGOs* to the European Commission, which is preparing a response to this issue as part of its strategy for the fashion industry. This comes just as G7 set itself the goal of eliminating this pollution by 2040.
The report indicates that the release of microplastics into the oceans has increased tenfold since 2005, with 171,000 billion microparticles now floating around. Among the contributors to this pollution, textiles are ahead of tyres (28%), plastic dust from cities (24%), road markings (7%), marine coatings (3.7%) and cosmetic care products (2%).
“Synthetic fibres are so cheap that they have become ubiquitous in fast fashion. They currently account for 69% of the textile market share, and this figure is expected to rise to almost 75% by 2030 (a total of more than 101 million tonnes),” the report says.
A situation that could get even worse, according to the NGOs. “The growing demand for fast fashion and the proliferation of synthetic textiles means that plastic microfibres are expected to increase,” they warn. “This development is worrying because of the persistence of microplastics in the environment, which poses a serious risk to ecology and public health.”
Some clothes could release hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of microfibres in a single wash, the paper said. It hopes that Brussels will take measures to encourage brands to turn away from synthetic materials and to work on the density of materials to avoid waste. Many microplastics also end up in the soil: waste water is commonly used as fertiliser in Europe and America.
A large part of the report is also dedicated to the issue of washing machine filters. “Washing machine filters are the only available and effective solution to reduce microfibre emissions into the environment in the short term, while longer-term solutions are being developed,” the report says. The report does not ignore the limits of this approach: better filters imply higher energy consumption, as well as an additional cost and increased maintenance that most consumers are not ready to accept.
*The authors of the report are the NGOs A Plastic Planet, Matter, PlanetCare, Xeros, and 5 Gyres. The report is also supported by Fashion Revolution, Ocean Conservancy, Plastic Soup Foundation, Good on You and Drip by Drip.