The release of plastic microfibers from synthetic clothing demands a collaborative effort from the textile industry. Fashion brands, as well as all stakeholders throughout the value chain, need to take responsibility for this issue. Solutions need to be implemented in the yarn and fabric manufacturing stage, and even at the end of the product’s lifecycle. It is not an option to focus on only one step of the chain: the responsibility of this issue devolves upon all involved stakeholders. By combining solutions in the entire cycle, microfiber pollution will gradually reduce and will eventually be prevented.
Would you like to collaborate? Are you a business ready to implement one of the solutions described below? Do you have an out-of-the-box idea? Contact us here.
Innovative Slovenian start-up PlanetCare is the developer of one of the best solutions for microfiber pollution to date: a thoroughly tested washing machine filter that catches at least 80% of the released plastic fibers before they disappear down the drain.
This filter has been tested by four renowned institutes: University of Slovenia, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), the Swedish Environmental Agency and a washing machine manufacturer. PlanetCare’s built-in and add-on filters are already available for consumer purchase. A pilot test in California is currently testing these filters for GreenEarth Cleaning’s industrial facilities and dry cleaners.
Along with their products available for consumers, PlanetCare has also developed industrial filters. Their industrial filter functions as a separate external unit for facilities which are a large and constant source of fibers. It covers up to 10 washing machines. It is a relevant and impactful solution for users with large laundry facilities such as hospitals, hotels, marinas, etc. Also, the solution is perfectly suitable in the fashion and textile industry or for wastewater treatment facilities. In a fully automated process, no chemicals are used.
Solutions earlier in the value chain are necessary to prevent the leakage of microfibers in the environment. Plastic Soup Foundation was the dissemination partner of Mermaids Life+, an EU funded project, whose goal was to examine & develop finishing treatments that would be applied to yarns and fabrics. These treatments would ultimately reduce the number of fibers released during washing processes.
First, commercial textile auxiliaries were tested and applied to fabrics. The results of this experimental phase showed that finishing treatments based on silicone emulsions and acrylic resins were able to reduce the number of microfibers released during washing processes. Then, further research was carried out on developing coatings based on two biopolymers deriving from natural sources: chitosan and pectin. Pectin is proven to be the most successful.
Pectin is mostly extracted from suitable agro-by-products like citrus peel & apple pomace and is used as natural ingredients for its gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties by the food industry. It is a mainly linear polysaccharide whose principal chemical unit is based on D-galacturonic acid monomer. Such polysaccharide represents an interesting biomaterial because it is cheap and abundantly available, being a waste product of fruit juice, sunflower oil, and sugar manufacture. Further research on the feasibility of this coating is being currently undertaken. Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) in Italy, is currently investigating this coating. If we can treat synthetic yarns & fabrics with a coating such as pectin-based finishing treatment, fiber loss will reduce dramatically.
A Handbook for zero microplastics from textiles and laundry for the textile industry was also developed as part of the Mermaids Life+ project.
Different critical parameters have a strong impact on microplastic release during the washing process.
- Fiber length: the shorter the fibers, the higher the probability to migrate to the yarn surface and increasing their hairiness and their pilling. As a consequence, increasing their release during the laundry process.
- Yarn twist: yarn resistance and elasticity increase with the twist. More compact yarns are achieved with higher twist values.
- Linear density (yarn count): the number of microfibers released will increase with the yarn count due to a larger amount of fibers per cross-section.
- Fabric density: a higher number of yarns per unit length will result in a tighter structure with a lower probability of fiber release.
- Textile auxiliaries: provide physical protection of fibers against abrasion/reduction of coefficient of friction (fiber-fiber, fiber-detergent) during laundry.
The Mermaids Life+ project also showed that pre-sale washing seems promising. During the first wash, significantly more microfibers are released. A first controlled washing of fabrics – capturing the microfibers released during this first washing – before putting them on sale could greatly reduce the number of microfibers released from synthetic clothes.
The Handbook for zero microplastics from textiles and laundry for the textile industry also looked at the influence of detergents and washing conditions on the release of microplastics:
- powder detergents, higher pH of the washing liquor and the usage of powder oxidizing agents favor the microfiber release;
- softener or special detergents (for delicate and synthetic fabrics) reduce the release;
- washing conditions such as high temperature, long washing time and strong mechanical actions, favor the release of microfibers from the fabrics.
The apparel industry has a significant impact on the environment. Making clothes uses earth’s resources such as land, water, energy and also causes pollution in the process. Amberoot aims to offer guidance to whoever interested in most & least sustainable materials, so they have created Amberoot Material Environmental Sustainability Ratings.
They measure each material based on how much water, land, and energy it uses. They also rank each material based on how much water, soil, and air it pollutes. In the ratings, they also measure whether the ingredient is renewable and biodegradable.