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Eurofins Develops Process to Measure Microplastics Shedding

Eurofins Softlines & Leather has developed an offering that assesses microplastics shedding quantification from textile products during simulated domestic laundry.

Based on close to 600 samples assessed from this offering, Eurofins Softlines & Leather’s research aims to support the development of tangible solutions to the pollutive challenge surrounding microplastics.

During the new process, samples undergo simulated domestic washing, from single wash to multiple wash, in a controlled environment. Liquid is filtered to collect residue for analysis.

Mircoplastics, referred to as particles of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, have become a controversial topic in recent years as more scientific research exposes the potential risks of microplastics to the human body, the ecosystem and the environment. Researchers from different institutes and organizations have indicated that the quantity of microplastics discovered in water bodies, as well as human bodies, is rising, Eurofins noted.

Shedding of microplastics from synthetic textiles during domestic laundry has been identified by various studies, including by the Hohenstein Institute, as a key source of the primary microplastics found in oceans. However, given the lack of industry standards and regulation on textile-related microplastics release, it is challenging for the industry to measure its real impact and look for meaningful solutions, the company said.

Many of the findings of the Eurofins study echo one from Hohenstein on the problem of microfiber plastics that come from the shedding of particles from synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon after water from industrial and home washing filter into the waste stream and ultimately the food chain.

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Both studies found that the finer the polyester yarn, the higher the shedding behavior, and the coarser the yarn or fiber, the less the shedding. Investigating the ratio of cotton and polyester shedding during the washing process using a polyester and cotton blended fabric, Hohenstein discovered that between 85 percent and 90 percent of the fiber particles examined were cotton, and only about 10 percent to 15 percent was polyester.

“So, the fiber that definitely has a worse shedding behavior was cotton, but cotton definition is not a plastic, so it can’t shed microplastic particles,” Dr. Jan Beringer, senior scientific expert at the Hohenstein Institute, said. “If you want to really engineer fabrics and look into your yarn and fabric construction, you need to know what debris they might shed in an effort to avoid microplastics and microfiber shedding.”

Highlights of the Eurofins Softlines & Leather White Paper include that fabrics and garments made with yarns containing fibers of longer lengths shed fewer particles into water. When comparing fabrics of the same composition and with similar weight, the study said it cannot yet be concluded that the construction of the fabric directly results in a larger volume of microplastics being shed.

The Eurofins study concluded that standards and methods to measure and solutions to the impact of microplastics should come from a “consolidated effort at each step of the supply chain, from manufacturing more durable and shed-resistant products to reducing the amount of microplastics reaching water bodies.”

Beringer said the key is wastewater treatment, such as commercializing and making widely available an existing technology that can filter out 100 percent of particles at the treatment plant level.

“We have the technologies available to fully overcome the issue of microplastic emissions in the environment,” Beringer said. “It’s all about the wastewater treatment.”

As part of the Eurofins Consumer Product Testing division, Eurofins Softlines & Leather delivers comprehensive quality, safety and sustainability solutions for textiles and footwear buyers and suppliers. Through its network of 10 laboratories in Asia, Europe and U.S., with two Technical Competence Centers in Spain and the U.K., Eurofins S&L assists customers of all sizes in continuous product and supply chain improvement.