The UK's laundry releases microfibres weighing the equivalent of up to 1,500 double-decker buses in microfibres every year, according to new research.
- The discovery was made by academics at the University of Leeds' School of Design, who co-created a test to measure how different materials and washing conditions affect the amount of microfibres released into water.
The Findings: More than twice as much microfibre material was released when the ratio of water to clothing was doubled.
- Filling up the washing machine drum with more clothes can reduce the amount of microfibres lost because less water moves through the clothes and dislodges loose material. However, overfilling a washing machine can be a safety concern, as well as potentially reducing the quality of the wash.
Agitation — the term for how much a washing machine shakes clothes around — also had a big impact, with higher agitations increasing microfibre loss significantly.
- Microfibre loss reduced substantially after a brand-new fabric's first wash, but this effect levelled out after three washes.
Other estimates have been based on the results of new fabrics being washed, so the findings suggested that less microfibre is being released than previously thought.
- The testing showed that the fabric characteristics — yarn type, construction (knitted or woven), fibre type (e.g. polyester or cotton) — had more influence than washing conditions on how many microfibres were released.
- The worst offender for microfibre release was a chenille polyester fabric, whereas some fabrics that had been brushed or peached lost less material.
The Project: As part of a project funded by trade body European Outdoor Group (EOG) and The Microfibre Consortium (TMC), the researchers estimated that annual microfibre release from the UK's washing was between 6,860 and 17,847 tonnes. That's the equivalent of around 600-1,500 double-decker buses.
- Based on their estimate, the researchers argue that microfibre release is a relatively small problem in comparison to the fashion industry's waste problem, with 365,000 tonnes of clothing going to landfill every year from the UK.
- TMC co-created and released a globally aligned, standard test to determine the level of microfibres shed from fabric during domestic laundering. The TMC Test Method has already been adopted by EU and US standard bodies.
- This will help clothing brands more accurately test their garments for microfibre release, inform washing machine manufacturers about filtering and give a clearer picture of the scale of the problem.
- The researchers used a Gyrowash — a device that replicates a domestic washing machine in lab conditions.
They tested 16 common fabrics, including polyester, cotton, viscose and blended materials, and compared different yarn types and constructions (knitted or woven fabrics). They also measured the effects of washing conditions, including the size of the load and how much the machine shakes the clothes.
What They Said:
Quantifying microfibre release is an important step in understanding the scale of the problem, as well as the potential impacts of this form of pollution. There are already lots of estimates out there, but these vary dramatically and it's almost impossible to make meaningful comparisons.
— Alice Hazlehurst (lead author)
University of Leeds