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Synthetic Fibers - Disasterous for humans and oceans

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Text by Plastic Soup Foundation

Nowadays, around 63% of our clothing consists of synthetic materials or a mix of natural and synthetic fibers. From pantyhose to fleece sweaters and summer dresses to gym pants: they are an intrinsic part of our wardrobes. But did you know that synthetic clothes fibers are a large source of pollution for our environment?

Plastic Soup Foundation - Synthetic Fibres

Loss of up to 17.7 million synthetic clothes fibers per wash

Plastic Soup Foundation was communications partner in the Mermaids Life+ consortium. For three years they did research into the loss of synthetic clothes fibers through laundry. The final results of the research were presented in May 2017 and have now been published in Environmental Pollution. It showed that between 600,000 and 17,000,000 clothes fibers are released in every 5-kilo wash. Especially fleece gives off a lot of fibers. Neither washing machines, nor sewage treatment plants are equipped to stop these fibers. They are so small that they easily end up in the water and eventually the food chain.

Microplastics in your honey

Miniscule particles were found in plankton, mussels and even honey. Traces were even found on leaves. These particles are so tiny that they can bypass cell walls. It is assumed that this allows them to enter our bloodstream through our respiratory system.

It’s the industry’s turn

Up to now the clothing industry has done little to tackle the problem. The Plastic Soup Foundation believes the ultimate solution lies in the production of yarn that loses less or preferably no fibers at all. Furthermore, washing machine manufacturers could develop filters that prevent the fibers from getting lost with the rinse water. For this reason, in 2016, Plastic Soup Foundation launched the campaign Ocean Clean Wash, with which we want to bring all the parties involved in the value chain together in order to find solutions to the problem. This campaign gathered more than 100 NGOs, scientists and well-known individuals as supporters from all around the world and, in 2017, a Steering Group of organizations was formed in order to take the lead in the fight against synthetic microfibers.

Grass roots solutions

Despite the lack of action from the industry several grass roots solutions have been invented. The Guppy Friend washing bag by Berlin outdoor brand Langbrett is one of them. As is the Cora Ball, inspired by the natural functions of coral, developed by The Rozalia Project in the United States. Both products have a filtering function during the washing cycle. How many fibers they actually stop has not yet been effectively tested.


The Plastic Soup Foundation thinks that fashion brands and manufacturers should design clothing in such a way that the fabrics no longer give off synthetic fibers.

The Plastic Soup Foundation thinks that fashion brands and manufacturers should design clothing in such a way that the fabrics no longer give off synthetic fibers. Another solution would be the development of filters for washing machines that filter out artificial fibers.

Governments should tighten their regulations on the basis of recent scientific insights into the origin and dangers of microplastics. The PSF further believes that priority should be given to research into the dangers of synthetic clothing fibers to the food chain.

Text: By Plastic Soup Foundation


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