Setting The Record Straight on Microfiber Pollution - Outdoor Industry Association
Sustainable Business

Setting The Record Straight on Microfiber Pollution

Recent articles have introduced small but significant inaccuracies about textiles and microfiber shedding. 

By Nikki Hodgson Apr 19, 2017

Toward the end of March, Stiv Wilson posted an article on Greenbiz , highlighting concerns around the impact of microplastics and the connection between textiles and microfiber pollution. 

While we applaud Wilson’s and Greenbiz’s efforts to raise awareness about the issue and to engage consumers and other important stakeholders in identifying solutions, there were a number of inaccuracies in the article that we‘d like to correct.  

  • Greenbiz: Although cheap to produce, polyester is twice as carbon-intensive as the next most carbon-intensive material: cotton. 

OIA’s Response: This is incorrect. According to the Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), the CO2 emissions per kilogram of conventional cotton is 11.29 kg CO2. Piece-dyed virgin polyester, on the other hand, emits 9.77 kg CO2 eq. If the polyester is recycled and solution dyed, the emissions can even be reduced to 7.50 kg of CO2. If the cotton is organic, there is a possibility that the emissions will be greater than polyester, but in no scenario are the emissions twice as high. 

 

  • Greenbiz: Some brands, recognizing a way to solve the carbon problem, thought making clothing out of recycled plastic water and soda bottles would be a good idea. This became an overall trend for “green activewear” brands to tell a sustainability story. 

OIA’s Response: Recycling polyester shows proven reductions in energy, CO2 emissions, and water. It’s not just a “sustainability story.” Through tools like the Higg Index and the Materials Sustainability Index, we have been working collectively to assess the impacts of the materials we choose and to improve the way we design, manufacture and recycle products.   

 

  • Greenbiz: Does anyone really think retrofitting 103 million washing machines in the United States alone is practical? 

OIA’s Response: The head of EPA’s Trash Free Waters Program said in a February webinar that “there are little more than 30 washing machine manufacturers in the world, which is a much narrower group to work with than the enormous amount of manufacturers in the textile industry.” 

 

  • Greenbiz: Technically, it’s difficult to put a filter inside a washing machine because the fibers it catches are so fine they end up stopping the machine from draining properly. 

OIA’s Response: We’ve spoken with a few washing machine industry companies. While design R&D still needs to occur around the placement and implementation of a filter, installing one on a machine is far from impossible. 

 

  • Greenbiz: Put a filter outside of the washing machine. This could work, but how on earth would you ever enforce it? This task seems just as hard as campaigning against all textile manufacturers, and again, it puts the burden on the public, not the producer. 

OIA’s Response: A filter on a machine could be enforced via city-wide regulation and/or municipal rebate programs similar to those currently used for rain barrels. 

 

  • Greenbiz: “There are fabrics from natural sources that could be used more widely — bamboo, for example, can be spun into fabric in a closed loop system (where chemicals used to break down the cellulosic fiber into a usable form are captured, re-used and never enter the environment). Bamboo has a lot of pluses, and also has many of the performance attributes that polyester does. 

OIA’s Response: Bamboo is commonly used for a rayon-like synthetic; however, bamboo requires the use of hazardous chemicals in its processing. Here is an article on the subject: http://www.ecouterre.com/how-eco-friendly-is-bamboo-fabric-really/ 

 

This is an area of concern for the outdoor industry and one that we have been working to better understand and collectively address for the past two years. Through the OIA Sustainability Working Group, a collaborative group of outdoor industry companies working together to improve environmental and social responsibility practice, we established a Microfibers Task Force. The purpose of this group is to exchange information and research to better understand the impacts and to identify sustainable solutions that mitigate the impacts without causing other unintended consequences.  

 All materials have trade-offs and there are no easy answers; the Microfibers Task Force and broader Sustainability Working Group are working to identify and understand the challenges and drive informed decision-making about the materials and processes used. To learn more about how the industry is working together on the Microfibers issue (or to join the Task Force), please visit the following resources or contact us at sustainability@outdoorindustry.org