Fashion and It’s Extensive Use of Microplastics

By Stephanie Israel 

With the growth of fast fashion, the massive demand for more clothes and the quick turnaround of trends, fashion waste is becoming more and more of a pertinent and concerning issue for the environment. Unknowing to many people’s knowledge, contemporary clothing is mostly made from plastic, which includes material like polyamide, nylon, polyester and acrylic. When washed, clothes made from these fabrics release minute fibres which are called ‘microfibres’and are a type of microplastic. Being micro means that they are smaller than 5 millimetres and are thinner than human hair. Due to the fact they are so tiny, these particles can actually bypass wastewater treatment and end up in the oceans. These fibres absorb nasty chemicals that are in the ocean, such as pesticide and other toxic substances. These contaminated microfibres then get consumed by sea organisms, such as plankton. As many sea animals in the food chain depend on plankton as their food source, it means that bigger fish also end up consuming these microfibers. 

This poses a big issue for us as humans, as we also consume seafood that is infused with these toxic microfibers leading scientists to believe that the journey of microfibers can actually finish with human consumption. Not only are these specks of plastic found in the ocean but in the air and water, too, even going as far as ending up in our beer and table salt. The overwhelming amount of plastics released from the slow disintegration of our clothing, (approximately 700,000 microplastics can be discharged from ONE item of synthetic clothing, with acrylic being the worst offender!) has prompted numerous research and reports from environmental organisations that want to make a change. 

It is crazy to think that a simple item such as a t-shirt could have so much negative impact on the environment. People rarely think about the implications of what having polyester clothing can input into our surroundings, so organisations such as Fashion Revolution and the Microfiber Consortium are campaigning for a reduction in the usage of plastic materials in the textile industry. These organisations want to reduce the plastic pollution in fashion in order to promote marine preservation and the regeneration of natural resources. For instance, The Microfiber Consortium has devised a three-year plan that they offer to manufacturing and retail business that aims to result in the minimisation and mitigation of microfiber release to the environment. 

Some fashion houses are actually starting to acknowledge what negative effects synthetic fibres can have on our environment. For example, brands like Stella McCartney are continuing to push forward with their commitment to creating sustainable clothing by introducing the world’s first biodegradable denim, made from organic cotton wrapped around a natural rubber core, thus making it completely free from microplastics. Whilst all Stella McCartney’s denim are already made from 100 percent organic cotton, the process in making even just one pair of denim jeans is strenuous and involves huge amounts of water and toxic dye. However, with the Coreva technology that they have developed alongside Italian manufacturer Candiani, less water is needed, and items are made in a safe and non-toxic environment. The whole life cycle of these new jeans are much more environmentally-friendly unlike clothing from other fashion brands as these can entirely biodegrade and are compostable. 

As consumers, we need to be more aware of the consequences our clothing can have on the environment. There are many ways in which to lessen our contribution to the microplastic pollution. For instance, we can be more mindful on what our clothes are made of when purchasing them. Secondly, try to reduce your usage of tumble dryers as these can actually elongate the process of shedding plastic. Lastly, it is also recommended to wash clothes at a lower temperature and putting your clothes in special wash bags such as the ‘Guppy Friend’, which can trap the plastic that sheds from synthetic clothing. 

We should make it a habit to do research into the products we are consuming in order to fulfil our duties as responsible citizens of the earth. After all, we and our loved ones are the ones who are going to have to experience the results of our current practices if we do not find alternative resources.