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December 18, 2017

European Outdoor Group to map microfibre pollution

The European Outdoor Group (EOG) has outlined a series of steps – including what it says is an "industry first" infographic and roadmap – to address the issues of microfibre pollution, as part of the ongoing Outdoor Industry Microfibre Consortium project.

By Beth Wright

The European Outdoor Group (EOG) has outlined a series of steps – including what it says is an “industry first” infographic and roadmap – to address the issues of microfibre pollution, as part of the ongoing Outdoor Industry Microfibre Consortium project.

Working with research partners UK-based Biov8tion and the University of Leeds, the Microfibre Consortium is to map out the interlinked parts of the microfibre challenge alongside an applied research study. All three projects are designed to facilitate a shared understanding of the complex challenges presented by microfibres, and to build knowledge of the factors that will play a role in finding viable solutions for industry to implement.

Microfibre pollution and its sources, fates, and effects present an ongoing challenge for the textile and garment industries, says EOG. Working alongside major brands such as Adidas, Asos, Berghaus, Craghoppers, Dare 2b, Finisterre, Fjällräven, Haglofs, Helly Hansen, Kering, Mammut, Marks and Spencer, Norrona, Next, Paramo, Regatta, Salewa, and The North Face, the Microfibre Consortium aims to develop improved knowledge of microfibre shedding and to work towards sustainable solutions.

“We have been delighted with the proactive and collaborative response of the outdoor and clothing industries to tackle this issue head on and believe that the new projects will undoubtedly contribute to scientific understanding, communications, and the development of solutions,” says Katy Stevens, sustainability project manager at the EOG.

The new infographic and roadmap will be an industry first to map out the interlinked parts of the microfibre challenge. It will demonstrate the effect of raw materials and processes across the supply chain, and later in the consumer facing aspect of the industry. 

Sophie Mather, founder of UK-based Biov8tion, which works with brands and retailers like M&S, Nike and H&M on sustainable innovation, and projects designed to reduce the impacts of water, waste and carbon across the total textile and apparel process from raw material to end of life, says the roadmap will outline an industry-wide action plan against a set timeframe. “The intention is that it becomes a clear tool to visualise ongoing research and product based solutions, and manage the expectations of brand, retailer and supply chain partners as they tackle microfibre pollution in their longer-term strategies,” she adds.

The one-year research project, to be carried out by the University of Leeds, will begin by validating a pilot test methodology to provide an industry standard on microfibres, a “vital step” to enabling the evaluation of fabric performance, and a precursor towards new materials development and innovation, says EOG. 

Following this, research will focus on building a comprehensive picture of why microfibre shedding occurs and how production and use factors can influence that. The objective will be to move the industry closer to finding ways to address the problem, through prevention, or the re-engineering of fibres and fabrics with reduced shedding propensities.

“With the proliferation of reports estimating the scale of micro-fibre release from clothing, it is important that this project develops the necessary scientific evidence base, from which the industry and others can build targeted solutions for microfibres,” explains Mark Sumner, lecturer in sustainability and fashion at the University of Leeds.

Initial work relating to the roadmap has demonstrated more opportunities for consortium involvement in the development of aligned industry tools and resources for use, both in-house and by external supply chain partners. There is also potential for involvement in additional research and development within the supply chain in order to identify and commercialise brand product solutions, adds EOG. 

Recent research by Mather, and backed financially by the Outdoor Industry Microfibre Consortium, found continued exposure to UV light can lower the tenacity of some polyester fibres by up to 42%.

Microfibres released from clothes during both the manufacturing and the consumer wash and wear stages, have been found to have detrimental effects environmentally. Initially assumptions from the industry pointed at fleece fabrics as the main contributor, but driven to challenge this deeper within textile engineering, the campaign #DontFeedTheFish was launched in January 2017 to take research to the polymer, fibre and yarn level.

UV exposure affects tenacity of polyester fibres

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