BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 14 Sept '18

35% of the microplastics released into the world’s oceans are from synthetic textiles

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has called for ‘urgent action’ to prevent the 6 million microfibres released from a typical 5kg wash load of polyester fabrics from polluting our oceans.

The impact of one wash

Each time an item of clothing is washed, up to 700,000 microscopic fibres make their way into our oceans. They’re then swallowed by sea life and become incorporated into the food chain, potentially ending up on our plates.

These are the findings of a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which highlights that garment aftercare affects an item’s carbon footprint.

The report recommends washing clothes at a lower temperature, using mesh laundry bags to catch threads, relying on tumble dryers less often or installing filters on washing machine waste pipes.

Engineering Out Fashion Waste also highlights the extent to which fashion is a thirsty industry – one that contributes significantly to water pollution globally.

The industry is also is energy-intensive, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) in 2015 – more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Clothing and landfill

The Institution is calling for ‘urgent action to tackle the waste produced over the lifecycle of an item of clothing’. This includes addressing water-intensive processes during manufacturing, such as removing excess dyes, and tackling the problem of disposing of a garment at the end of its life.

Three-fifths of all clothing produced is sent to landfill or incinerated within a year of being made.

Aurelie Hulse, lead author of Engineering Out Fashion Waste, said we need to ‘fundamentally rethink the way clothes are manufactured, right down to the fibres that are used. Garments should be created so they don’t fall apart at the seams and so that they can be recycled after they have been worn for many years.’

‘Fabrics should be designed not to shed microfibres when washed and industry needs look at how efficiencies can be made in the cutting process, which currently sees 60bn m2 of cut-off material discarded on factory floors each year’, Aurelie added.

‘The garment industry is one of many industries that has a threefold impact with emissions to air, water, and large amounts of waste produced for landfill and incineration. This means that to begin to create a sustainable fashion industry we need to address all of these areas and engineers are producing solutions that range from greater efficiency in machinery and water use to new materials with reduced shedding.

‘Given that it has been estimated that there are 20 new garments manufactured per person each year and that consumers are buying 60% more than in 2000, these environmental implications must be addressed as a matter of urgency.’

DR JENIFER BAXTER
Head of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

The report recommends that the government, in collaboration with the fashion industry, should invest in initiatives that provide incentives for the development of more environmentally friendly fibres.

It advises the government to work with the fashion industry and manufacturers to develop a comprehensive framework to tackle ‘greenwashing’, or false sustainability claims.

The report also recommends government, fashion industry and manufacturers should support the development of mechanical and chemical fibre recycling technologies, particularly those which are able to separate blended fibres.