Study: some clothing “disintegrating after a few washes”

brett mathews | 7th February 2019

MUNICH – At this year’s ISPO in Germany, researchers presented evidence that clothing is polluting the ocean with tiny plastic microfibres every time it is washed. The researchers tested synthetic clothing from four major fashion brands and found that some garments with high polyester content released so many microfibres that they started to disintegrate after just a few washes.

The study, carried out by the Institute for Polymers, Composites and Biomaterials of the Italian National Research Council (IPCB-CNR) and the Netherlands-based Plastic Soup Foundation, tested synthetic clothes from adidas, Zara, Nike and H&M.

It is claimed that a blouse from Zara – made of 100 per cent polyester on the front and a blend of cotton and modal on the back – lost so many fibres per wash that it started “disintegrating” after only a few washes. It lost an average of 307.6 mg of fibres per kg of laundry.

Maria Westerbos, director and founder of the Plastic Soup Foundation said: “This is what you call fast fashion. It disappears in front of your eyes.”

The tested t-shirts from both Adidas and Nike, made of 100 per cent polyester, lost a very similar percentage of mg of fibres per wash: 124.05 mg/kg and 125 mg/kg, respectively.

A H&M blouse that was tested contained 65 per cent recycled polyester. The loss of fibres from this blouse was still high but, surprisingly, it performed better than the other brands, losing an average of 48.6 mg per kg of wash.

The method used in determining the quantity of lost fibres was similar to the one Plymouth University used on their research in 2016. Both institutes weighed the filters before and after filtration in order to evaluate the number of microfibers released in grams.

Maria Westerbos added: “IPCB-CNR wrote a scientific paper on the performed tests which is being peer-reviewed and will soon be published. Although the outcome is shocking and three out of the four fashion brands perform ‘badly’, we cannot completely compare them. It all depends on what fabric has been used and how the yarn is made: what (combination) of materials, but also if the fibres are long or short, or if the yarn is woven or knitted. We need a benchmark to be able to compare yarn, but no fashion brand in the world is willing to pay for that. It makes me so sad.”