The fashion industry must do more to tackle plastic pollution, Friends of the Earth said as it published new figures highlighting the sector’s significant contribution to the problem.

The environmental campaign group says clothes washing in the UK is estimated to generate around 4,000 tonnes of plastic microfibre pollution every year – of which 1,600 tonnes could be ending up in our rivers and estuaries.

The call coincides with a new survey, showing that most people aren’t aware that much of our clothing is plastic-based. The Friends of the Earth-commissioned YouGov poll found that only 45% of the public know that new clothing can often be made from, or contain, plastic. Friends of the Earth is urging the public to embrace slow fashion by choosing fewer, more durable clothing items made from sustainable material.

Plastic microfibres in clothing

As much as two thirds of clothing could be made from synthetic plastic material, such as polyester, acrylic or polyamide. When these plastic-based clothing items are washed they shed millions of tiny microfibres. It has been estimated that up to 17 million microfibres could be released by an average full washing machine wash.

These microfibres are so tiny that they can be mistaken for food by some of the smallest creatures in the ocean, which are then consumed by larger creatures as part of the food chain that much of our planet’s ocean and terrestrial life depends on.

Tsunami of plastic pollution

“The fashion industry is a major contributor to plastic pollution, shedding tonnes of tiny plastic microfibres into our oceans via our washing machines every year,” said Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner Emma Priestland. “These fibres are so small that they pass through water treatment facilities and end up in the food chain when they are swallowed by small creatures in our seas. The industry must help stop this tsunami of plastic pollution.”

“Eco-conscious shoppers can play their part by embracing slow fashion and choosing better quality, less-polluting clothes or buying vintage items. Ultimately, to end the plastic pollution crisis, we need government action to phase-out all but the most essential plastics”.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the public to embrace slow fashion rather than fast fashion; and buy fewer, better quality items made with sustainable material instead. The environmental campaign group is also urging the clothing industry to take steps to reduce its contribution to the plastic pollution entering our oceans.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here