As executive director of the Microfibre Consortium (TMC), Sophie Mather has seen microfiber pollution from clothing balloon from an emerging issue to a critical concern. The fashion industry has made tremendous strides in understanding the root causes of the problem, she said. Now, it’s time for it to expedite solutions to “ensure impact can actually be made.”
“There is an urgent need to position this topic within the larger sustainability agenda and enable a no-regrets decision to be made,” Mather said Tuesday as she unveiled a new global commitment to achieve zero impact from fiber fragmentation from textiles to the natural environment by 2030. “Today really marks the point where we shift gears and look to a new approach to providing a more transparent and collaborative platform that is scaled across the broader industry outreach.”
Up until now, Mather said, stakeholders have not had a “distinct global agenda” within which to work, which means that research funding has not been allocated in sufficiently strategic ways that can deliver coherent results and promote progress. The Microfibre 2030 Commitment and its accompanying Roadmap seek to change that.
TMC, a multi-stakeholder initiative whose members include Adidas, Gap Inc., Patagonia and Zara owner Inditex, is hoping to get buy-ins from 100 brands, retailers, manufacturers and research organizations by the end of next year and 250 by 2030. Birla Cellulose, Finisterre, H&M, Helly Hansen, Hohenstein, Jack Wolfskin, and SGS are some of the agreement’s early adopters. Both The Nature Conservancy and the ZDHC Foundation have also thrown in their support.
“There’s no question we need alignment, and now is the right time for that,” she added. “As we launch the Microfibre Commitment and Roadmap, we’re really looking to amplify that alignment and close the gaps between the disparity of topic information.”
With the publication of several unified test methods for evaluating microfiber release, including TMC’s own, the fashion industry has resolved one of the biggest bottlenecks in tackling the issue, which means the real work can begin in earnest, Mather said. By next year, TMC plans to roll out a process to test and quantify pre-consumer microfiber loss from the manufacturing sector, build out a Microfibre Data Portal where these results can reside and pilot a Microfibre Knowledge Hub where brands, retailers and suppliers can access useful information.
In 2023, the Roadmap will release its first progress report, determine a fiber fragmentation baseline for signatories and put out a call to action to stakeholders to tap this shared knowledge to mitigate fiber fragmentation. 2025 will see the launch of a Microfibre Global Rating system, which the Commitment’s signatories will adopt to create a more consistent approach. When 2030 comes around, TMC hopes to see 80 percent of pledgees adopt and implement microfiber limits.
While Mather understands that people want to jump immediately into eliminating microfiber generation, doing so is only possible if the first two “pillars” of aligning the industry and understanding microfiber fragmentation are in place and fully resourced. Signatories should also be aware that the Commitment’s remit doesn’t include anything directly related to wastewater treatment plants, white goods, detergents or any consumer-facing work.
“That doesn’t mean to say it’s not important, but we wanted to make sure that this Roadmap was very focused and we were able to actually deliver against it,” Mather said. “So I would very much welcome anybody from those industries that are working on roadmaps that could actually work alongside this to please get in touch.”
The Commitment’s participation cost is set at a “modest rate,” based on the company’s turnover, for the first two years of the Roadmap, she added. Signatories must also commit to populating the Microfiber Data Portal with material testing data each year beginning 2022 and ending 2025. Small brands are tasked with a minimum of five tests per year, medium brands, eight, and large brands, 10. Research and manufacturing organizations must conduct at least 10 tests a year.
Many research papers put out “bold statements” about the microfiber problem with minimal data, said Trudy Watson, technical director at TMC. As such, there remains a need for salient, scalable data to draw out proper conclusions. “This is a tool where detailed fabric specifications and test results that are uploaded are anonymized and saved,” she added. “And as the data within the portal scales and grows, the ability to reach confidence levels needed for bigger statements becomes a greater reality.”
Meanwhile, TMC will be setting up “task teams” composed of different signatories to investigate key areas the require greater attention. “The fiber fragmentation topic is a massive topic and we can break it down into certain areas and enable the task teams to get into the depth that’s actually required there,” Mather said. “The task teams really become the engine room of the Roadmap, enabling us to draw from a diverse set of expertise to drive the research, support the direction and the output of the work, and offer a modular approach and ability to flex as topics come in and out of the Roadmap.”