Today’s eco question: Microfibers—how to fight the invisible?

This January 2023, the Agec law will for the first time require France’s largest market players to indicate the risk of plastic microparticles being released into the environment when an item consisting of more than 50% synthetic materials is washed. More and more attention is being paid to these microscopic elements, which have a sizeable impact due to their volume, as nearly a third of plastic microparticles originate from clothing.

All fiber types, all along the life cycle

Particle loss can be tied to fiber-type, fabric construction, finishing processes, and, in the course of cleaning, the kind of washing machine, washing cycles and detergents used. Obviously, with 64% of fiber production going to create synthetic materials*, these are the ones most often found around us.

However, natural and artificial materials are also involved, because these fibers carry with them the treatments they have undergone. Their various upstream dyeing baths and chemical or mechanical finishes, used to impart a certain look or technical feature, do not have a neutral impact once the particles are released in water or into the air. Downstream, during use, these articles will disperse plastic microfibers, or diffuse substances related to dyeings and finishings.

Preventing the release of microfibers

These tiny nano-particles infiltrate everywhere, and can pollute the soil, migrate to the water table, and pose risks to human health and marine life.

Read also: Smart Key: Microfibres, macro-problem?

What solutions to prevent the release of microfibers?

Today’s methods for measuring fiber loss vary, and can thus cloud the picture, as when non-aligned results are pooled to draw conclusions. Standardizing tests with an iso standard, being introduced in 2023, will help to characterize at-risk classifications more reliably, and help remedy the problem, and result in the development of innovative solutions.

During the industrial phase, it’s already possible to strengthen filtration systems, for both air and wastewater, during fiber, yarn and fabric production, to help capture—upstream—the microparticles linked to the various steps of fabric transformation.

Further down the chain, consumers also have a role to play. Studies tend to show that top-loading machine systems have a greater impact on fibers and result in an increased discharge. Additionally, cold washes, gentle spin cycles, the use of wash bags and the installation of specific filters on washing machines, along with air-drying, are all ways to prevent the release of microfibers from fabrics.

*Textile Exchange Preferred Fiber Market Report 2022

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