Experts are warning the way people wash their clothes needs to change to prevent plastic getting into the food chain.
A report issued by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests as many as 700,000 microscopic fibres may their way into the ocean every time a garment is washed.
That, they say, risks seeing them swallowed by sea life which can then end up as food.
The report highlights that garment aftercare affects an item’s carbon footprint.
Now they are calling 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.
Engineering Out Fashion Waste also highlights the extent to which fashion is a thirsty industry, one which contributes significantly to water pollution globally.
They say it is also is energy-intensive, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) in 2015 – more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
And the Institution wantsurgent action 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.
Aurelie Hulse, lead author of Engineering Out Fashion Waste, said: “We need to build on existing industry initiatives and fundamentally rethink the way clothes are manufactured, right down to the fibres that are used.
“Garments should be created so they don’t fall apart at the seams and so that they can be recycled after they have been worn for many years.
“Fabrics should be designed not to shed microfibres when washed and industry needs look at how efficiencies can be made in the cutting process, which currently sees 60bn m2 of cut-off material discarded on factory floors each year.”
Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, added: “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.
“This means that to begin to create a sustainable fashion industry we need to address all of these areas and engineers are producing solutions that range from greater efficiency in machinery and water use to new materials with reduced shedding.
“Given that it has been estimated that there are 20 new garments manufactured per person each year and that consumers are buying 60% more than in 2000, these environmental implications must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: Improving the world through engineering
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