The Problem With Microfibres

When we launched our Microplastics Collection back in 2018, there was limited science around the issue of microfibres. Since then, more research has been undertaken and fresh evidence shows that the problem isn’t just limited to synthetic fibres as was previously thought.

As a producer of clothing, we’re constantly examining the impact of our garments, during their production, use and end of life, so here we look at the latest information and what can be done to reduce the overall impact of microfibre pollution.

Microfibres are defined by The Microfibre Consortium as, “Tiny fibres released from natural, synthetic and man-made cellulosic textiles throughout the product lifecycle.” Largely released during the consumer phase, when clothes are washed and worn most, these tiny fibres enter our water systems and eventually find their way to the ocean where they can affect wildlife, and even be mistaken for food by fish, ultimately finding their way into our own food chain. There are many misconceptions about microfibres, and the issue is often lumped in with the conversation on microplastics. 

One of the greatest challenges is that research on microfibres is still in its early stages, and there is not enough knowledge within the scientific community to give definitive answers or solutions. What we do know though, is that it’s not as simple as saying “some fibres are good, some fibres are bad.” Unfortunately, the issue affects most textiles, from cotton and wool to synthetic fibres. 

“All types of fibres have a propensity to shed to some extent, understanding the full impacts of their physical and toxicological presence are growing areas of research - therefore we must not limit our focus to synthetic materials.”  TMC

The scale of the problem means it’s an issue that can only be solved with collaboration across brands, industry partners and scientists. We all need to work together, and that’s why in 2018 Finisterre became a founding member of The Microfibre Consortium – a collection of brands and manufacturers pushing for further research and practical solutions to be used within the textile industry. As a producer of clothing and with our passion to protect the natural world, we feel a huge responsibility to understand and reverse the impact of the microfibres problem. 

As a brand Finisterre use a balance of both natural fibres and synthetics, with our top textile use shared across organic cotton, recycled polyester and wool, and in 2023 we conducted testing of five fabrics across our core range to get a baseline of their impacts. Building on those results and informed by our findings, in 2024 we are focussed on developing a strategy for future testing, supporting the TMC to fill any potential gaps in the datasets that make up the Microfibre Data Portal. 

"Brands that sign the Microfibre 2030 Commitment seek to make positive changes to their products in order to reduce fibre fragmentation at the root-cause, the fabric itself. Finisterre is amongst a growing community of pioneering organisations, each actively engaged in a number of research‑led activities to advance understanding of microfibre pollution from all textiles.” – Anna Bateman, Senior Stakeholder Ambassador, The Microfibre Consortium

It’s a start, but there is much to be done to address the microfibre issue and so in 2022 we signed the Microfibre 2030 Commitment. This formal commitment brings together brands, industry partners and scientists to contribute to the development of knowledge and the identification of fibre fragmentation solutions.  We will continue to support this important research and will share updates with our community. 

If you’re particularly worried about your clothes shedding microfibres when you wash them, there are things you can do to help minimise their impact:

Wash less, wear more

Microfibres shed in the wash, so the less you wash your garments, the fewer microfibres you’re producing – as well as saving water. Products like outerwear, denim or wool knitwear really don’t need washing as often as you think, so try to only wash your gear when absolutely necessary. 

Filter your fibres

There are a range of in-home filter options that have been developed to combat this issue. Using a washing bag or adding a filter to your machine can help trap macrofibres before they enter the water system and make their way to the ocean.  

Love your gear for longer 

Ultimately, the most sustainable product is the one you already own. By repairing and keeping your gear going for longer you’re reducing your consumption and lessening demand on the manufacturing end. That’s what our Lived & Loved repairs service is here for – breathing new life into old favourites and saving them from landfill. 

Petition/ letter to MP 

These are not solutions to the wider issue. But, as we wait for the science to show us the way forward, we’re committed to championing ways to reduce the impact of our products as much as possible. 

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