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Microfibres: What They Are & What Can Be Done to Reduce Them?

MAY 12, 2020

We often get asked about microfibres and their impact on the environment. Microfibres are a type of microplastic found in the ocean that originate from fabric during washing. These tiny particles are not visible to the human eye so it’s only been on the last decade that scientists have begun studying their impact on the environment. 

There is ongoing research into how plastic ends up in the ocean. Studies carried out by Greenpeace (www.greenpeace.org) show that around a fifth of marine litter is made up of fishing gear like nets and fishing lines, while other materials that have been lost at sea, dumped illegally or through industrial losses. These studies have also found that rubbish dumped into rivers rivers contribute 2.4 million tonnes of plastic to the ocean every year making up 80% of litter in the ocean.

The challenge with microplastic is its size, being smaller than 5 millimetres in length, so it’s easily transported though waterways causing pollution in rivers and oceans. Microplastic’s small size means that it is often ingested by marine animals, which can cause reproductive issues, malnutrition or starvation. As they are so small, they are very hard to recover and are generally resistant to biodegradation.

The clothing company Patagonia (www.patagonia,com) has conducted extensive research into the issue of microfibres shed from clothing and has found that they originate from a wide variety of textiles – from nylon and rayon to polyester. As mentioned above, apparel products are not the only source of particles entering the oceans and no definitive research has been completed as to the amount it contributes towards microplastics in the ocean.

Microfibre pollution is a concern, so the goal is to limit the release of microfibres and implement means to capture them before they enter the waterways. At DGrade this starts at the development stage by producing high-quality polyester products which are shown to shed less in the wash than low quality products. So whatever clothing and fabrics you purchase it’s best to buy clothing that is designed to last.

If you are considering alternatives to polyester clothing, it’s important to acknowledge that all types of fabric come with some environmental or social costs. For example, cotton cultivation requires large amounts of land and 10,000 litres of water to produce just 1 kg of cotton. While virgin polyester is made from oil and requires a lot of energy in production; polyester made from recycled plastic bottles uses less water, less energy, produces fewer carbon emissions and doesn’t require oil.

So, our advice is to research the products and brands you purchase and understand the various environmental impacts, and choose sustainable products. Remember that all clothing releases microfibres and are shed in the wash, so only wash your clothes when necessary.

Our infographic outlines how microfibre release and capture is being addressed and what you can do to help reduce microfibres from entering waterways. 

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