A few days ago, the news reported that microplastics had been found in the snow close to the peak of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. The microplastics found in the samples were primarily made up of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene. These are all materials used in outdoor gear, tents, and ropes.
The concentrations of microplastics were higher closer to areas where humans camp. However, it is possible that microplastics travelled from other regions and settled on the mountain through the wind. Previous research already showed that plastics stay in the atmosphere for a long time and travel for kilometres before settling.
Microplastics from textiles have reached every corner
Not only have researchers found plastic fibres at the top of the world, but microfibers were also found at the deepest point of the ocean – the Mariana Trench. These particles, mainly coming from textiles such as clothing, upholstery, and carpets, were found in air samples in Paris, London, China, and Germany. And even in remote areas of the French Pyrenees, US national parks, and the Himalayas.
Because of friction, these textiles release plastic microfibers in the air. Just by wearing synthetic clothes, microfibers are released continuously in the air. Recent research even showed that wearing polyester clothes releases as many microplastic fibres in the air as through washing, which proves that the focus should be on preventing fibre release from washing as well as the whole manufacturing process.
The textile industry should take responsibility
The responsibility of the fibres found in Mount Everest should not entirely fall back onto the hikers. Consumers have the power to make decisions about what they buy, but this type of pollution is reasonably new and misunderstood. The textile and fashion industry should take responsibility and reconsider how they make clothes so that they do not create such an environmental problem.
Clothes and textiles release microfibers when manufactured as well as worn. For this reason, there should be solutions implemented before the products reach the consumers’ hands. Better design, pre-washing the clothing items with filters, and adding environmentally-friendly coatings on fabrics, are only a few of the solutions where the industry can invest. We believe that the ultimate goal should be that consumers receive a product that is as sustainable as it can get, and the industry has the obligation of providing it.
vTackling (micro)plastic pollution is a task that should involve all stakeholders in the process: governments, businesses, and consumers alike.