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A trail of plastic waste left in the wake of uncontrolled growth

From February to March 2020 Fashion Revolution co-founder Carry Somers participated in eXXpedition, sailing 2000 miles from the Galapagos to Easter Island into the South Pacific Gyre, one of the key areas of plastic accumulation in the oceans. The voyage was part of an all women round-the-world scientific expedition that is carrying out groundbreaking research into microplastic pollution.

Over two years and 38,000 nautical miles, a crew of 300 women will take on 30 challenging voyage legs to sail through the some of the densest ocean plastic accumulation zones on the planet to study plastic pollution on board expedition sailing vessel S.V. TravelEdge.

During the voyage The eXXpedition Round the World science programme will carry out research at sea and on land. The research conducted during the mission has been designed to advance a better understanding of the plastics issue as a whole and to work with industry to pinpoint solutions and policy at a global level by addressing knowledge-gaps and delivering evidence to inform effective solutions.

Science at sea | There are three main focus areas

Surface water: Manta trawls

Ocean motion is complex and variable, which means the distributions of plastics can also vary over time, therefore continued studies are needed to examine temporal and spatial patterns. This research will utilise standard methods to examine the abundance, distribution and polymer composition of plastics in surface waters. The team will also investigate the role of ocean currents and circulation features, such as eddies, on microplastic distribution. This data are important to determine locations of plastic accumulation and how these may change and can also  be used to refine oceanographic models used to study marine plastics.

Subsurface water: Sampling with NISKIN bottles

Subsurface sampling is undertaken to study the composition and distribution of different plastic polymer types within the upper ocean, which is currently a data deficient topic. This study will challenge perceptions that microplastics reside only in surface waters while contributing novel data to address gaps in our understanding of the distribution of microplastics within subsurface waters. This is important research as it will have implications on understanding the global budgeting of plastics and developing effective solutions must take into account all plastics.

Subtidal sediment: Van veen sediment sampling

This will form a global analysis of the distribution, abundance and polymer composition of microplastics in subtidal sediments. Theyt are testing the hypothesis that sediments are a ‘sink’ for microplastics and will perform analysis to determine the abundance and polymer composition in coastal sediments. This will enable the identification of global ‘hot spots’ and polymer data can inform on the potential sources of these microplastics.  

The eXXpedition has triggered Fashion Revolution to launch a new campaign that helps look at #Whatsinmyclothes which is also at the heart of RawAssembly and a major part of everything we do #responsiblesourcing to help encourage designers and brands to really know where their fibres and materials come from, how they are produced, by whom and most importantly their impacts.

Photo Credit: eXXpedition

Carry reflected on her leg of the voyage in her recent blog post:

"Beyond the floating plastic we see with the naked eye as we sail towards the South Pacific Gyre, every time we test the water, using the manta trawl and Garrett screen for the surface water, Niskin bottles for the subsurface and Van Veen Grab Sampler for the sediment, they confirm the presence of a shoal of plastic. We analyse the myriad microplastics and microfibres collected using the ATR-FTIR spectroscopy on board to identify the polymers.  This process helps us work out the relative proportions of different types of plastics and the percentage that are likely to be coming from clothing and textiles. Past studies have shown 34.8%[ii]of microplastic pollution in our oceans comes from synthetic textiles and there are currently an estimated 1.4 million trillion microfibres in our oceans[iii].

Research shows that plastics emit powerful greenhouse gases as they degrade and, over time, give off more and more gas; the plastics accumulating in our oceans represent a scaringly vast, uncontrollable source of future emissions contributing to climate change."

Carry Somers, Fashion Revoluion Co-Founder

Photo credit: Carry Somers

Photo credit: Carry Somers

The fourth edition of Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index, launched in April 2019, ranks 200 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers according to their level of transparency. It measures how much information brands disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impacts.  In April 2020, the fifth edition was published, covering 250 brands and retailers.  Five key areas are assessed: Policy & Commitments, Governance, Traceability, Know, Show & Fix which looks at how brands assess their suppliers and how they work to fix any problems and Spotlight Issues, which in 2019 focused on the the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals.

In terms of SDG12 Responsible Production and Consumption, whilst 43% of brands are publishing a sustainable materials strategy or roadmap, only 29% are disclosing the percentage of their products that are made from sustainable materials and just 15% publish measurable, timebound targets for the reduction of virgin plastics. Only 26% of brands explain how they are investing in circular solutions to reduce textile waste. In their 2020 Index, one of their Spotlight Issues will be Composition, looking at how brands and retailers are reducing salient environmental risks through material selection, the elimination of hazardous chemicals and moving towards circularity.  As part of this section, The Fashion Revolution team will be looking for disclosure on what the brands are doing to minimise the impact of microfibres.

Building a more sustainable fashion industry and curbing its destructive impact on our oceans will entail governments, brands, retailers and citizens all taking action together to help bring about the systemic change needed to end the exploitation of our planet.

Governments must act urgently to deal with fashion’s escalating environmental problem and as these solutions will, in turn, help tackle climate change, this should be a win-win. We are currently allowing companies to evade responsibility for their environmental impacts, so we also need to see mandatory due diligence and reporting for all major brands and retailers. Legislation should also be passed requiring all new washing machines to be fitted with effective filters to ensure maximum capture of microfibres.

Brands and retailers must change their business models and create products with longevity and quality. They must understand the true value of materials, which should be mindfully designed, redesigned and recuperated as a valuable resource. Brands must set Science-Based Targets and report annually on their progress.  And they must use sustainability to drive all aspects of their business.

It can be hard to know how best to care for our clothes as research on reducing microfibre shedding is limited and, at times, contradictory. Recent advice suggests short cycles, using liquid detergent and fabric softener and washing at a low temperature.  

What is certain is that the best way to reduce microfibre shedding is to wash our clothes less frequently. We can also rethink the fibres in our wardrobe and choose wisely when buying new clothes.

Finally, we can all use our voice and our power to demand that brands and legislators work to reduce the trillions of microfibres flooding into our waterways. That’s why Fashion Revolution has just launched a new hashtag #WhatsInMyClothes.

Fashion Revolution’s Manifesto states, “Fashion conserves and restores the environment. It does not deplete precious resources, degrade our soil, pollute our air and water, or harm our health. Fashion protects the welfare of all living things and safeguards our diverse ecosystems”. If we all work together, we can, and must, create a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values the wellbeing of everyone and everything living on this earth and in our oceans over growth and profit.



eXXpedition – led by ocean advocate and skipper Emily Penn – was founded in 2014 to shift the way people feel, think and act by building a global network of multidisciplinary women who can contribute to world-class scientific studies, explore solutions, and use their unique skill sets to tackle the problem from all angles.


Fashion Revolution is the world’s largest fashion activism movement, founded after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013. Fashion Revolution campaigns for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry through research, education, collaboration, mobilisation and advocating for policy change.

Text via:

[i] Fashion Revolution

[ii] Boucher and Friot, 2017

[iii] Leonard, 2016


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