This Christmas, Let's Think How Our Clothes Are Causing Plastic Pollution – And How We Can Minimise The Damage

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In the lead up to Christmas, many of us will be eagerly searching out the best deals on fleece jackets, woolly jumpers, and fuzzy socks. You may not be aware but our clothes release tiny “microfibres” when we wash them. These are small plastic threads from synthetic clothes that can go through washing machines and into our oceans.

The issue of plastics in the marine environment extends from plastic bottle caps to vehicle tyres. Much smaller and more ubiquitous pieces of plastic are shed from all fibre types, and in particular, from polyester and acrylic clothing from domestic washing. These microplastics – or microfibres – are being found by marine biologists in the oceans and in marine life but the full extent and impact of them is still unknown.

Working with many different retailers across the UK, I have seen the efforts made to tackle plastic pollution, avoid plastics where possible, and increase recyclability of materials. With microfibres, early research suggests that microfibre shedding from clothing makes up a significant proportion of the microplastics entering the oceans. Already, retailers are working together with leading academics, NGOs and with their supply chains to better understand its impact.

What can retailers do? It is important that we take the best scientific guidance available to inform any action. Different forms of fabric and fibres have a different environmental impact – from water scarcity to climate change – so hasty actions can often end up having unforeseen consequences. Retailers are continuing to support the research – including understanding the difference of shedding between virgin and recycled yarn and whether colouration of a garment plays a part – into this issue as well as speaking with their supply chain to ensure focus is being given to this issue from all sides. Everyone has a part to play including detergent and washing machine manufacturers.

As Friends of the Earth wrote, there…

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