The EU is being urged to tackle microplastics as part of its strategy for a Circular Economy Action Plan, which was published in March 2022.
Members of the European Commission have been given a whitepaper authored by a group of NGO’s, scientists, and solution providers, which calls to action for the EU to mandate filters in washing machines as the only effective near-term solution.
The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to microplastic pollution to the world’s oceans and waterways. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles measuring less than 5 millimeters in diameter, which can come from a variety of sources, including clothing and textiles.
One of the main ways the fashion industry contributes to microplastic pollution is through the production and disposal of synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. These materials shed tiny fibers every time they are washed, which can end up in our water systems and oceans. According to a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), washing just one synthetic garment can release up to 1,900 microfibers into the water. In the EU alone, 35 tonnes of textile microfibres are released into the environment every day.
On 17 May, the EC is expected to publish its initiative on tackling microplastic pollution. This whitepaper urges the Commission to follow the lead France has already taken to mandate for washing machine filtration, alongside a wider call for systemic change in the textile industry.
Synthetic textiles are now thought to be the most prevalent source of microplastics found in waterways and soil. Based on current trends the amount of synthetic microfibres entering the ocean between 2015 – 2025 could accumulate to an excess of 22 million tonnes 18.
Solutions to microplastics from textiles
While there is no short term fix to eradicate microplastics, EU regulators could make a significant impact at scale if it were to follow France’s lead.
Calling to action for companies to reduce synthetic textiles production and for consumers to reduce their use should be a critical focus of any policy when looking at the fashion industry's impact on microplastic pollution.
Embracing new methods of textile design at material level are necessary for sustainable clothing production’s future but do not account for garments that do not have these features and will continue to shed large amounts of microfibers. The whitepaper urges for a major mindset shift towards a more circular way to make and buy clothing.
The whitepaper is authored by A Plastic Planet, Matter, PlanetCare and 5 Gyres Institute. It has been supported by various industry NGOs such as Plastic Soup Foundation, Fashion Revolution and Good on You.