Microfibres and fighting the invisible: What should we know?

How plastic fibres in our clothes are impacting on the environment.

Micro plastics on a beachFor the first time, January 2023 saw the AGEC law, the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy, require France’s most significant market players to indicate the risk of plastic microparticles being released into the environment when an item consisting of more than 50% synthetic materials is washed.

From the Mariana trench to the Himalayas and everything in between—microfibres are everywhere. Nearly a third of plastic microparticles originate from our clothing, so more and more attention is being paid to microfibres and their sizeable impact. 

What are microfibres?

Representing about 60% of clothing material worldwide, synthetic materials used in clothing & textiles include polyester, acrylic, and nylon. Polyester continues to be the most commonly used, making up 60% of our synthetic materials. Thanks to their ability to be readily available, durable, resistant and affordable—these man-made materials remain hugely popular in the fashion industry.

Despite synthetic materials boasting many popular qualities, once manufactured, washed and worn, synthetic clothes and textiles shed tiny plastic fibres that end up in the environment. These plastic fibres do not biodegrade but instead fragment into smaller pieces. These tiny pieces, called microfibres, are smaller than 5 mm and usually not visible to the naked eye.

Top down view of monofilament micro polypropylene fiber for concrete structural reinforcement on black stone background. Macro construction background

What is The Microfibre Consortium?

In recent years, The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) has shed light on the negative impact of these fibres in our textiles, issuing a call to the textile industry to better control microfibres in wastewater during the production of apparel.

The research-led sustainable textile non-government organisation works to convene the global textiles sector through The Microfibre 2030 Commitment and Roadmap.

Starting with manufacture, TMC proposes a wide, cross-industry adoption of the Preliminary Guidelines, ‘Control of Microfibres in Wastewater’, to reduce unintentional fibre loss during manufacture. These guidelines are the result of an extensive two-year development process led by TMC’s manufacturing task team and involved partners from across the industry, designed to help companies better control microfibres in wastewater during the production of apparel.  

The Microfibre Consortium states that all businesses along the footwear and apparel value chain (i.e. brands, retailers and their supply chain partners) are responsible for adopting and adhering to aligned cross-industry guidelines to minimise the impact of fibre fragmentation. 

Micro plastic that found from beach lay on people hand.

Micropollution through washing and wearing

The ubiquitous consequences of microfibre pollution are responsible for the pollution of our people and planet. According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), plastic particles washed off from products such as synthetic clothes & textiles contribute to 35% of primary microplastics polluting our oceans.

Not only are plastic fibres constantly released into the air just by wearing synthetic clothing—but every time we do our laundry, an average of 9 million microfibres are also released into wastewater treatment plants and end up in our oceans. 

Are our clothes making us sick?

Due to our dependence on fast fashion and washing habits, microplastic pollution will likely increase. With irrefutable proof that microfibres are polluting our planet and people, these fibres often come with a cocktail of chemicals attached to them, including notorious BPAs that are thought to cause a range of health issues. 

A study by Heriot-Watt University suggests we are breathing in at least 13,000 to 68,000 plastic microfibres annually from our clothing, carpets, curtains, and other textiles. Research indicates microfibres can lead to an increased risk of respiratory problems. Inhaled plastic microfibres may persist in the lung and, as a result, cause inflammation.

The formation of the Coalition, ZonMw, a Dutch organisation that finances health research, has given the green light to 15 short-term research projects on how microfibres and plastic affect our health.

Sustainability at Gen Woo 

At Gen Woo, we are continually looking for ways to reduce our impact on the environment. We’re taking time to think about our processes, our production methods, and our product life cycles. We’re seeking to economise on our use of natural resources, and we’re improving the social conditions of those who work in our supply chain.

As a family-run business, we believe we all have a part to play in ensuring our children inherit a better, brighter world. We offer transparency, accountability, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Find out more about our current initiatives and accreditations on our sustainability page

Shop Gen Woo’s range of children’s earth-positive graphic slogan t-shirts Focus on the EarthEarth Day Everyday, or Back to Nature Daisy PJ Set.

A young girl wearing Gen Woo ‘Focus on the Earth’ graphic print slogan t-shirt.

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