Testing and inspection services provider TUV Rheinland is helping the The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) to understand the problem of fibre shedding from textiles after its Shenzhen and Shanghai laboratories were approved to carry out tests for member companies.

Researchers from the UK's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) most recently estimated 12m to 21m tonnes of waste are found in the upper layers of the Atlantic Ocean – which also includes microfibres shed from synthetically produced fibres.

"With every wash, textiles shed microfibres. But while cotton, as an organic material, degrades almost completely, synthetic fibres persist in the environment much longer," explains Heather Ball, responsible for textile testing at TUV Rheinland in Western Europe.

"The problem has long been recognised by experts. The microfibres in the wastewater are not completely filtered out by sewage treatment plants and thus end up in the waters or as sewage sludge on the fields."

The global inspection services group is now working to boost understanding of this environmental impact in Asia. In June, the Microfibre Consortium (TMC) approved TUV Rheinland's textile testing laboratories in Shenzhen and Shanghai to carry out tests for TMC member organisations. The aim is to quantify fibre release from fabrics during domestic laundering. A commercial roll-out will follow.

Ball adds: "As an approved test house for TMC members, we can now support testing starting with textile manufacturing and throughout the entire product lifecycle to ensure sustainable product development."

TMC members range from apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers to research institutions and policy makers, all of whom are working on global, environmentally sustainable solutions.