Wearing polyester clothes releases as many microplastic fibers in the air as through washing. For the first time, a test shows the consequences of wearing synthetic clothes. Up until now, all research was focused on microfiber pollution through laundry washing, while these results show how wearing polyester clothes pollutes the environment to a similar extent.
Scientists from the University of Plymouth and the Institute for Polymers, Composites, and Biomaterials (IPCB) at the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) tested four polyester garments. The samples had different textile characteristics to see if the release showed different behaviors. Garments with compact woven structure, highly twisted yarns, and low hairiness registered the smallest releases to both air and water. It is clear that design does matter. The research was published in Environmental Science & Technology.
The fashion industry must adapt
The fashion industry needs to take responsibility and make decisions on textile designs, which will reduce microplastic pollution both in air and water. Environmentally friendly finishing treatments or coatings on the fabric are also a solution to protect it from the friction in the washing machine and during wearing.
It is time for the fashion industry to change the current fast fashion model of clothes that don’t last and put efforts into the design of better-quality clothing: producing garments that are dangerous to the environment and human health is not acceptable.
France is already taking measures to reduce microfiber release, by enforcing a law to install filters in all new washing machines from 2025. However, this study makes it clear that more actions are needed earlier in the lifespan of a garment, especially since microfibers released through the air have a more direct link to our health.
Synthetic clothes: bigger problem than previously thought
The research shows that previous estimations of the impact of synthetic clothes on the environment and our health were highly underestimated. Earlier research did not take into account the microfibers that reach the environment through everyday wear into the air. An average household generates 20kg of domestic dust a year, of which 6kg consists of microplastic, so the contribution of synthetic clothes and textiles to household dust is also significant. Plastic particles in the air are another significant source of microplastic pollution in the environment and a human health hazard.
Microfibers are a risk to human health
Fibers from textiles have the potential to absorb and release chemical contaminants during wear and washing. Experts have already suggested that “we don’t have time to wait” to find out if inhaling microfibers is damaging our lungs. We drink, eat, and breathe those microfibers in our own house and our working spaces. A precautionary principle should be followed to prevent harm to human health, and the fashion industry must take its responsibility, solutions are available, it’s time to act.
Researcher Fransien van Dijk from the University of Groningen presented the preliminary results of the research of her team during the first-ever Plastic Health Summit, where they found out that exposing lung cells to microfibers decreased their growth. Further results will be published later this year.