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LONDON – New research has highlighted the potential for including microplastic pollution in environmental assessment tools for the apparel and textile industries. Researchers suggest it would be relatively simple to give a weighting for microfibre pollution from synthetic textiles including polyester in tools such as the Higg Materials Sustainability Index.

The paper argues that a simple metric of mass or number of microfibres released combined with data on their persistence in the environment, could provide a “useful interim mid-point indicator in sustainability assessment tools to support monitoring and mitigation strategies for microplastic pollution.” The researchers also make several other policy recommendations including: standardised analytical methods for textile microfibres and nanofibres; ecotoxicological studies using environmentally realistic concentrations; studies tracking the fate of microplastics in complex food webs; and refined indicators for microfibre impacts in apparel and home textile sustainability assessment tools.

Approximately two-thirds of all textile items are now synthetic, dominated by polymers such as polyester, polyamide and acrylic. Plastic microfibres (<5 mm) and nanofibres (<100 nm) have been identified in ecosystems in all regions of the globe and have been estimated to comprise up to 35 per cent of primary microplastics in marine environments, a major proportion of microplastics on coastal shorelines and to persist for decades in soils treated with sludge from waste water treatment plants.

Earlier this year, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition told us it wants to incorporate a weighting for microfibre pollution into its Higg Material Sustainability Index, “as quickly as possible.” However, the US body told Apparel Insider the stumbling block is a lack of “credible, widely accepted methodology for microfibre impact.” The SAC’s CEO, Jason Kibbey, was responding to our suggestion that polyester’s high ranking on the Higg MSI appears somewhat anomalous given ongoing and high profile concerns around microplastics and associated microfibre pollution in waterways.

Full paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971834049X

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