More than a third of all microplastics released into the oceans are from synthetic textiles used in the fashion industry, according to a new report. Each time an item of clothing is washed, up to 7,00,000 microscopic fibers make their way into oceans, where they are swallowed by sea life and become incorporated into the food chain, potentially ending up on dinner plates says a study by The Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Garment aftercare affects an item’s carbon footprint. A way out is for individuals to wash their clothes at a lower temperature, use mesh laundry bags to catch threads, rely on tumble dryers less often or install filters on washing machine waste pipes. Research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), cited in the report, calculated that 34.8 per cent of releases of microplastics in the oceans are due to the laundry of synthetic textiles.
Fashion is a thirsty industry, one that contributes significantly to water pollution globally. It also is energy-intensive, producing 1.2 billion tons of Co2 equivalent– more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Annual growth in global demand for clothing is projected to increase from 1.5 per cent in 2016 to between 3.5 and 4.5 per cent by the end of 2018 and is likely to continue to grow, according to McKinsey & Company released earlier this year..
Urgent action needs to be taken 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.
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.