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Denim Microfibers Found in Remote Regions of Arctic

Denim microfibers, which can shed from clothing during the home washing process, have been discovered in some of the most isolated parts of the world.

A new report from researchers at the University of Toronto shone a light on microfibers found in oceans and lakes throughout Canada—including remote parts of the Arctic region.

After studying surface sediment samples collected from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Laurentian Great Lakes and shallow suburban lakes in southern Ontario, researchers found that microfibers made up 87–90 percent of anthropogenic pollution, or pollution from human activity. Of all microfibers analyzed in the study, 12-23 percent were from indigo denim.

During the home washing process, microfibers from clothing can slip through the machine’s lint trap and end up in waterways and oceans. According to the report, washing one pair of jeans can release anywhere from 52,000-60,000 microfibers each time. And because chemicals are used to make most denim, these microfibers can pose a threat to the surroundings and its inhabitants.

Microplastic pollution has been a hot topic in the denim supply chain in recent years.

To reduce the environmental impact of home washing, brands like Mud and Levi’s encourage consumers in their marketing efforts to wash their jeans less often. And according to denim experts, doing so will also help maintain the integrity of the jean.

Players in the supply chain are also introducing new fabric technologies to eliminate the need for at-home washing. Turkish denim mill Calik bowed its new Washpro technology, developed to keep garments feeling fresh for longer without washing.

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Earlier this year, Rudolf Group’s Hub 1922 debuted Washless Denim, a combination of two existing technologies, Bionic-Finish Eco and Silverplus, that together address the opportunity to reduce domestic washing. Bionic-Finish Eco is a system of macroscopic branches that attach to the fiber and help restrict liquid droplets from penetrating the fabric, while Silverplus, a “micro-structured element” coated with metallic silver, controls odor-causing bacteria.

The subject of microplastic pollution was highlighted in the 2019 Biodesign Challenge, which calls on high school and college students, in collaboration with artists, designers and biologists, to “reimagine biotechnology.” Last year’s winner was a team of researchers at Australia’s RMIT University who invented Enzer, a water filtration and treatment system that can better trap microfibers before they make their way into the world’s water sources. The device can be retrofitted to the standard washing machine.