Oceans & Oceans of Microfibres: Time To Clean Up Our Act!


In October 2018, one of the European e-commerce platforms on which RubyMoon is featured, banned all polyester clothing – unless it is recycled. 
With 35% of all plastic in the ocean being attributed to tiny plastic particles that are washed off of clothing, the issue of plastic pollution is becoming increasingly relevant and urgent. We were wondering if this is the beginning of the end for synthetic fabrics? Alexandra Reece investigates.

Consumers are aware of the polluting impact of plastic on the environment, but what if by washing our clothes responsibly we could start cleaning up the problem?

It was just a few years ago that consumers were made aware of the devastating effects their cosmetics and cleaning products could have on marine life in the form of microbeads, with a sales ban enforced by the British government only in June 2018. Now with increased discussion and scientific findings about microplastic, it seems that consumers can no longer ignore the devastating impact their wardrobes can have on the environment.

The Plastic Soup Foundation, the world’s leading plastic pollution NGO, has been instrumental in highlighting the problem of plastic waste and microplastics in our water. They estimate that 8 billion kilograms of plastic are dumped in the sea every year (1). Through making changes to our consumption habits, we can reduce this terrifying trend.

On February 4th, results of a collective study on microplastics in textiles were presented at the Microplastic in Outdoor Apparel: Press Conference at ISPO Munich. RubyMoon is collaborating with these organisations (Sympatex, the Plastic Soup Foundation, IPCB-CNR, Plastic Leak Project, Planet Care & Lou McCurdy) in a campaign to explore and find solutions to microfibre release from synthetics.
RubyMoon’s powerful philosophy and imagery helped us to team together with the Plastic Soup Foundation in the Oceans and Oceans of Microfibres: Time to Clean up Our Act campaign. The photograph of environmental artist, Louise McCurdy, wearing RubyMoon while hoovering up microplastic from the Brighton sea line has provided the campaign with thought-provoking visuals.

35% of the microplastic released into the world’s oceans originates from synthetic textiles (2). Each time a synthetic fabric garment is washed, up to 700,000 microscopic fibres (microplastics) travel into our oceans. There are an estimated 1.4 million trillion microfibres in our oceans, equalling 200 million microfibres for each person on the planet (3). Plastic is able to absorb toxins, causing poisoning, infertility and genetic disruption in marine animals (4). Dissected fish have been found with fibres weaving through their gastrointestinal tract, killed by an abundance of pollutants in waters that are meant to sustain them (5).

Current wastewater treatment facilities in the UK are not designed to capture microscopic particles, meaning microplastics pass through sewage treatment and end up in our waterways and oceans (6). When microplastics enter waterways they also enter the food chain, being eaten by marine life due to their small size, and eventually end up on our dinner plates – toxins and all.

Yet, despite shedding microplastics, synthetic fabrics play an important part in our wardrobes. They are great materials for active wear, yoga garments, and swimwear – no natural alternative works as well. But why is it that yoga enthusiasts, swimmers and gym goers are keen to monitor their diet and exercise, yet not concerned with how they are poisoning both the environment and themselves with their workout wear?

Clearly, our consumption and cleaning habits have a lot to answer for!



 

 

The issue of microplastics in textiles was something that Sympatex was keen to explore in its commissioned study by the Institute of Polymers, Composites and Biomaterials of the Italian Research Council (IPCB-CNR). The study analyses the importance of factors, such as fabric type, in the release of microplastics during wear and washing of clothing. The initial results of the study were released at the Microplastic in Outdoor Apparel: Press Conference in early February 2019.

Findings include:
– a Zara blouse, made up of a 100% polyester front and cotton-modal-blend back, losing so many fibres that it started disintegrating after only a few washes. Over 307mg of fibres were lost per kg of laundry. Maria Westerbos, director of Plastic Soup Foundation, stated “this is what you call
fast fashion – it disappears in front of your eyes.” Adidas and Nike t-shirts made from 100% polyester were found to shed a similar amount of fibres each, ~125mg per kg of laundry;
– an H&M blouse made from 65% recycled polyester also had a high loss of fibres but performed significantly better than the other brands, losing ~49mg per kg. This is an important indication that buying clothing made from recycled synthetics significantly reduces microplastic shedding.

These results were shared with tested brands in 2018 to allow them the opportunity to react and make changes. However, only Adidas has been active in the search for solutions. No other brand has even bothered to respond. These study’s findings confirm how vitally important it is to find ways of consuming and caring for garments sustainably, which RubyMoon champions in its brand philosophy and clothing collections.

What can we, as consumers, do about it?
Here are some top tips to reduce microplastics from our clothing’s wash & wear.

 

 

Buy clothes made from recycled synthetic fabric, such as ghost nets, instead of virgin synthetics.

  • It takes 30% less energy to make clothes from recycled plastics than virgin synthetics, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and use of chemicals (7).
  • RubyMoon helps to shrink the 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste that is washed into the ocean each year by recycling these into garments (8). In doing so, RubyMoon reduces the volume of marine life that are victims of plastic pollution, such as sea turtles who consume plastic waste, causing blockage in the gut, leading to ulceration and death.
  • Plastic fishing nets, that are recycled into RubyMoon clothing, when left in waterways cause harm to marine life by choking aquatic creatures or becoming tangled in corals. These fishing nets leach more microplastic into the sea than the compacted yarns they are turned into.

As a clothing brand, RubyMoon holds itself responsible for reducing harm inflicted on the environment by synthetic materials. It’s time to clean up our act and RubyMoon is showing the way.  

Invest in quality clothing.

  • The fast fashion industry is a large contributor to the microplastic problem as cheaper fabrics shed their fibres more easily(5).
  • The quality fabric used by RubyMoon contains well spun fibres, making it less susceptible to shedding.
  • In partner with Mermaids Life+ research, the IPCB-CNR has developed a very promising solution to the microplastics problem. A pectin coating has been developed to add to yarn that could potentially prevent over 80% of microfibre release. RubyMoon is one of the first clothing brands to have an insight into this revolutionary technology.

 

Wash clothing less often, using a front-load washing machine

  • Air your clothes before deciding whether they need a wash, or spot-wash garments that are dirty in a specific place.
  • Studies in the US have shown that polyester clothes shed more fibres when cleaned in a top-loading washing machine due to increased levels of friction, so try to do your washing in a front-load machine (9).

Install a filter on your washing machine drainage pipe.

  • An average washing load can release 500,000 fibres from polyester and over 700,000 fibres from acrylics (4).
  • Planet Care is working in partnership with the Oceans and Oceans of Microfibres: Time to Clean up Our Act campaign to develop a reliable filter process that prevents microfibres from entering our waterways, without the use of chemicals (4).
  • Planet Care’s mission is to create solutions that are practical, affordable and accessible. They have created built-in filters, add-on filters, and industrial filters for washing machines (4).
  • Results from the IPCB-CNR using Planet Care filters show up to 80% of fibres are caught before entering wastewater. There is potential for RubyMoon to reduce the volume of future microplastic shedding of garments by pre-washing them in filtered machines before the point of sale.
  • The filter is a working solution that washing machine manufacturers need to implement ASAP.

References:

  1. Plastic Soup Foundation ‘No plastic waste in our water!’ https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/
  2. My Green Pod (2018) ‘Laundry and Microplastics’ https://www.mygreenpod.com/articles/laundry-and-microplastics/
  3. The Story of Stuff Project (2017) ‘The Story of Microfibres’ YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqkekY5t7KY
  4. Planet Care (2018) ‘PlanetCare filter’ https://planetcare.org/en/
  5. Messinger (2016) ‘How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  6. Fauna & Flora International (2018) ‘Marine pollution from microplastic fibres’ https://api.fauna-flora.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Marine-pollution-from-microplastic-fibres.pdf
  7. Ethically Sustained (2013) ‘Polyester and recycled polyester’ WordPress https://ethicallysustained.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/polyester-and-recycled-polyester/
  8. Mambra (2017) ‘How is plastic ruining the ocean?’ Marine Environment https://www.marineinsight.com/environment/how-is-plastic-ruining-the-ocean/
  9. Lynggaard (2017) ‘Recycled polyester pros and cons’ The New Fashion Norm http://thenewfashionnorm.com/2017/03/23/recycled-polyester-pros-and-cons/
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