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ZDHC Joins Microfibre Consortium to Slash Microfiber Shedding

The ZDHC Foundation has joined The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) as its research member to facilitate the development of science-based solutions for the textile industry to minimize fiber fragmentation and the release of these microfibers into the environment from textile manufacturing and product life cycle.

“There is understandable concern about the release of microfibers from textiles into the environment and their potential to cause harm,” Phil Patterson, chair of the MRSL Advisory Council at the ZDHC Foundation and board chair at The Microfibre Consortium, said. “This is a relatively new area of concern compared to say chemical safety, pollution, water scarcity and climate change and the actual negative impacts are not fully understood.”

Patterson, noting that this challenge requires “urgent attention,” said that “by teaming up with ZDHC, leaders in management of harmful releases from the textile industry, and The Microfibre Consortium, leaders in understanding and mitigating microfiber formation, we have the very best chance of delivering practical solutions, at scale and at speed.”

ZDHC and TMC will work together to address the engagement needs of the industry to grow understanding of microfibers released in wastewater from production facilities and textile finishing facilities. The two organizations will release a white paper to level the understanding of this topic prior to the launch of the ZDHC Guidelines update. Planned to launch in November, the guidelines will cover microfibers, and include testing methods and limit values to hold the industry accountable.

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“By working directly with our research members, including textile suppliers, researchers and third party labs, we have already identified some great understanding about how different manufacturing processes are affecting fiber fragmentation and release,” Sophie Mather, executive director of TMC, said. “We have done this by testing fabrics at all stages of manufacture, using the thorough and robust TMC test method. We are seeing high shed rates of fibers within wet processing, so this new relationship is very important and supportive for addressing this fast-paced topic, as it really harnesses the expertise of both ZDHC and TMC to accelerate the agenda and support the change needed.”‍

ZDHC will engage all its stakeholders, including brands, manufacturers, textile- and leather- processing units with the guidelines update to increase the understanding and urgency of the issue while providing support through its platforms and solutions.

“Working to minimize fiber fragmentation to the environment is an important part of the ZDHC mission to implement sustainable chemical management practices across the fashion industry and we’re looking forward to collaborating with TMC,” Scott Echols, senior Roadmap to Zero program director at the ZDHC Foundation, said. “This collaboration will help us scale the type of solutions called for in the recent study by The Nature Conservancy and Bain & Company ‘Toward Eliminating Pre-consumer Emissions of Microplastics from the Textile Industry.’”

TMC facilitates the collaborative development of practical solutions for the textile industry to minimize microfiber release to the environment from textile manufacturing and product life cycle. The consortium now has a membership that incorporates a diverse range of outdoor, fashion, sport and home textiles, brands, retailers and suppliers.

The Bain report examines a significant source of microplastic emissions from clothing, contributing to the amount of pollutants threatening ocean ecosystems and public health.

The report found that an estimated 120,000 million metric tons of synthetic microfibers are released into the environment annually at the pre-consumer stage. This means that for every 500 shirts manufactured, one is lost as microfiber pollution.

This new study examines the sources of microfibers emissions from textile manufacturing and materials processing, such as fragmentation of yarn and fabric in the industry and ineffective filtration of fibers that leak into waterways. While attention on microfibers emissions has been largely focused on the shedding, washing and disposal of synthetic textiles by consumers, this report shows that pre-consumer emissions have now reached the same order of magnitude as the consumer use stage.

“This report helps us begin to understand microfiber emissions in pre-consumer textile manufacturing and how we can advance ocean health,” Tom Dempsey, oceans programs director at The Nature Conservancy in California, said. “Previously, most of the focus and research on microfiber emission has been on the consumer use and loss during laundering, but now we are starting to see that the magnitude of the problem is similar at the pre-consumer stage. The good news is that with a few powerful steps, ranging from development of fiber control technology and establishing best practices for suppliers to the continued work in materials innovation, collectively we can make a massive impact in reducing pre-consumer microplastic emissions into the ocean.”

Left unaddressed, these pre-consumer emissions are projected to increase 54 percent by 2030.  The report outlines consumer and supplier recommendations, along with regulatory steps, that could address 90 percent of pre-consumer emissions.

This new research shows growing consumer consciousness around reducing microplastic emissions. The report found that of the 43 percent of those surveyed who were aware of the microplastics issue, half of them learned about it within the past year, and one-third said the problem needs to be “addressed urgently.”