16 June 2021
More clothing is being produced, consumed, and thrown away than ever before, putting immense pressure on our planet. Radical changes in the textile industry are essential to stand any chance of stopping further environmental and climate breakdown and reducing global inequalities, as well as securing human health.
With the upcoming EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles insight, Plastic Soup Foundation has joined 24 other international organizations to call on EU leaders to take urgent action to rein in the sector and champion a radical textile industry transformation to change how clothes are made, sold, worn – and re-worn. Today we launch our Wardrobe Change campaign, together with a position paper.
Synthetic textiles and microplastic pollution
Among many other issues surrounding the textile industry, the use of synthetic fibres in textiles is causing many problems for the environment and our health. For many years, the Plastic Soup Foundation has been drawing attention to this problem.
The use of synthetic fibres in textiles has now more than doubled since 2000, and it already represents more than two-thirds (69%) of total global fiber production. If nothing changes, this will likely continue growing to reach nearly three-quarters of total global fibre production in 2030, with polyester accounting for 85% of this share.
Synthetic textiles are a significant source of plastic microfibre pollution, potentially accounting for up to a third of all microplastics entering the ocean annually. In addition, plastic fibres are constantly released into the air: research has shown that polyester clothes pollute the air as much as the water.
Microfibres from synthetic clothing seem to have a more significant negative impact on the environment than other microplastics because they get stuck more easily inside the digestive organs of organisms and block the absorption of food. This, in turn, leads to reduced growth or death. Other effects are lower energy levels and growth and changes in behavior and reproduction.
Research shows that microplastic emissions are also harmful to humans. We are eating and drinking plastic and plastic fibres found in the outdoor air, but they are also present in indoor air inside buildings, especially in the dust on the floor. We breathe in at least 13,000 to 68,000 plastic microfibres from our clothing, carpets, curtains, and other textiles every year. New research raises substantial concerns about the damage nylon, and polyester microfibres could cause to human lungs, with children and people suffering lung diseases being especially vulnerable.
EU leaders: take action!
We urge the European Commission to define legislation that sets measures and maximum thresholds for the number of microplastics released during production, the use phase, and the end-of-life phase. To stop microplastic pollution, we recommend a better design of clothes to address microplastic pollution at the source. We also suggest exploring rules on industrial pre-washing and waste-water filtering in European processes. Furthermore, measures related to sectors involved in the use phase, such as regulations on washing machine filters, should also be considered.
The coalition of NGOs behind the Wardrobe Change campaign calls for legislation to hold brands accountable for their contribution to global pollution. We call for new policies to stop the runaway overproduction of textiles. Our position paper proposes measures including minimum standards for how long clothes should last, a ban on the destruction of unsold and returned goods, rules to verify and substantiate green claims, and ambitious targets for an absolute reduction in the number of natural resources used across the supply chain.