LONDON – Environmental group Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to educate consumers on microplastics and ultimately try shift the apparel industry away from polyester. The campaign warns consumers they could be eating tiny plastic particles which enter the food chain via the world’s oceans. Many clothes contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide, with almost two thirds of new fabrics containing such materials.
As repeated studies have shown, once washed, these materials shed millions of plastic microfibres so small that they can drain out of washing machines and pass straight through wastewater treatment plants into the sea. Apparel Insider caught up with Julian Kirby, lead plastics-free campaigner for Friends of the Earth and asked, firstly, whether the NGO is campaigning for polyester to be phased out.
He told us: “We recognise that a huge proportion of our clothes are now made from synthetic materials, and that non-synthetic materials including and especially cotton also have environmental concerns associated with them. In the case of cotton these are severe and so we would definitely not want to see those increased.
“That’s why we’ve taken a position that companies making synthetic clothes must work to reduce the microfibre pollution issuing from them, which could include by means such as better garment design and production quality, and fitting filters to washing machine outflows in factories.
“Ultimately we see plastic as a material that needs to be phased out of most of the uses to which it is put today, including in clothes, because of the many ways in which it is polluting. But, given it’ll take time to find sustainable alternatives for some of the trickier of those uses whether that be synthetic materials in clothes or whether that be cars tyres that also shed huge amounts of microplastics, we’re looking for interim measures that reduce plastic pollution from these sources whilst we still use them.”
Asked generally about the campaign, Kirkby told us: “This is the launch of the campaign. We will grow it as more people become involved and more companies respond. Plastic pollution from clothing and other textiles is considerable so won’t go away as an issue. This campaign will also link into our broader work on plastics pollution which calls for a holistic political solution i.e. one that tackles all significant forms of plastic pollution, not just single use plastics.”
We also asked whether Friends of the Earth is encouraging consumers to move towards any particular fibre types. He told us: “Not as yet, no, but we are constantly in contact with industry and researchers on the look out for the best alternatives and are aware lots of research is going on in this area.”