Next Wave

Toward guiltless synthetic fabrics

14-08-2018 in Circular Textiles

Rossana Orlandi creating awareness at Milan Design Week

As the issue of plastic pollution and micro-plastics moved into the spotlight, the textile industry found out that they are contributing to the problem. Should we feel guilty? Or should we find out what can be done to start the clean-up?

Dirk Vander Kooij's multicolored table, made from recycled plastics. A sign of optimism. Dirk Vander Kooij's multicolored table, made from recycled plastics. A sign of optimism.

Micro-plastics pose a threat to marine life. Part of it is produced by textiles. Minuscule plastic fibres can be released when synthetic materials are washed, finding their way into the water system and then the sea. The National University of Ireland in Galway showed that 73% of Atlantic deep-sea fish had ingested micro-plastics. Today the fashion industry is on high alert. Rather than a mea culpa, they should focus on finding the right solution.

Finding real solutions

In addition to recycling fibres such as polyester to reduce waste, fashion businesses are now focusing on the plastics involved in textiles. “Focusing too much on recycling, rather than investing in materials that are low-impact and renewable in the first place, takes away the guilt feeling, but it does not solve the problem of micro-plastic pollution.” Nina Marenzi, founder of The Sustainable Angle, says. “Even the materials made from ocean plastic do not solve the problem.”

Unsold textiles. H&M was sewed for burning them. Unsold textiles. H&M was sewed for burning them.

Recycling is not enough

Also Lucy Gilliam, co-founder of Exxpedition, a microplastics research project, says we need to look for real solutions: “We need to produce materials that shed fewer fibres, and we need to make materials that don’t remain in the water, using more natural materials or mimicking natural materials. We’re seeing lots of initiatives where people are making recycled polyester textiles, but in some cases recycled plastic textile will shed more than textiles made from first-use polyester.” At MoOD many of the highend exhibitors focus on natural materials, such as linen, hemp, wool and cotton. Amongst them Lemaitre Demeestere and Girones who sent me some pictures of their collections. Javier Girones: "The image shows an item from our beloved project supplying nice and natural items in today's massified polyester plains and Chinese stuff."

MoOD exhibitor Lemaitre Demeestere believes in natural materials like hemp, linen and wool. MoOD exhibitor Lemaitre Demeestere believes in natural materials like hemp, linen and wool.

“In some cases a recycled plastic clothing can actually shed more than clothing made from first-use polyester.”

Lucy Gilliam: “We also need to design washing systems that mean we’re not discharging microfibers. Whether that’s through having filtration systems on washing machines or something else.”

Micro-plastic shedding should be a topic for the whole industry

The more we work in the circular economy, the more it strokes our altruistic ego. But is this as good as it will get? It does not solve the micro-plastic shedding as you could read above. The amount of manmade fibres in the textile industry is growing with the demand for more functionality and more carefree textiles. The conclusion is that only the industry can solve this problem, working on new materials, new ways of recycling and solutions to reduce micro-plastic shedding.

Natural materials are the best protection against micro-plastic shedding. MoOD exhibitor Girones focuses on linen and wool. Natural materials are the best protection against micro-plastic shedding. MoOD exhibitor Girones focuses on linen and wool.

A new technology makes it possible to recycle complex multi-layer materials

 While it may be easy to recycle cardboard or paper, recycling packaging and textiles made up of mixed materials is a more difficult – but not impossible – task.

One of the innovative solutions developed by the chemical industry to help recycle multi-layer packaging is the use of particular polymers or processes that make recycling easier. For example, a technology developed by DuPont makes it possible to recycle used agrochemical bottles, a typically difficult product to recycle.

Altruist, a trend theme at MoOD

By presenting the theme Altruist, I want to point out the importance of the debate. Two things can happen in the future: first the amount of recycled materials will become so important that the industry will have no other choice than to use it. This is the easy part. The hardest part could come from the legal side. Transparency about the materials and an end of life roadmap for textile waste are likely to become a legal obligation. But my real message is that we should not be pleased with the fact that we do something. We can always do better!

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