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The Microfibre Pollution Issue

 

Over the past few years, the issue of microfibres from clothing polluting marine environments has been gaining more and more attention – and rightly so.  Because our shorts are made from polyester, albeit 100% recycled and recyclable, we are very aware that our products contribute to this problem.  We therefore owe it to you to present the facts about plastic microfibre pollution (as far as we possibly can at the present moment), the reasons behind our material choices, what we’re doing about it, what you could do, and help you to make informed purchases.

 

“Nothing has no impact.  Few products are low impact.  There’s an issue with everything, but we have to do the best that we can.”

 Ali Murrell, Riz co-founder and Bottles-to-Boardshorts lead

 

What’s The Problem?

A recent study released this year by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) estimates that between 15-31% of marine plastic pollution is made up of tiny plastic particles (rather than large plastic items, such as bottles, that break down into smaller pieces over time) and that 35% of those tiny plastic particles are generated by the washing of synthetic textiles.  

60% of our clothing is made of polyester.  That’s before you consider nylon or acrylic, and means that the majority of our clothing is made from plastic compared to natural fibres such as cotton or wool.  Whilst synthetic fabrics require far less water to produce in comparison to cotton, and don’t require the use of pesticides to grow, three times the amount of CO2 is generated in their production compared to cotton.  All of this makes the fashion industry one of the worst polluters on a global scale, for both emissions and non bio-degradable waste.

When synthetic fabrics are washed after wearing, they shed thousands of microscopic microfibres which end up being flushed down the drain with the wastewater.  Too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants, they end up in rivers and eventually in our oceans where they absorb toxins and are consumed by fish and shellfish, accumulating as they travel up the food chain.

 

fish for sale in a japanese fish market

 

Why Do We Use Polyester Then?

All functional swimwear is made from synthetic fabrics.  Polyester doesn’t absorb water, is fast drying, and doesn’t shrink when wet – the key requirements for fabric that will be worn in and out of the water.  The only swimwear that you will find that is cotton or wool will likely either be original vintage or revival fashion, and it will be bulky, will be heavy when wet, will likely chafe, and may shrink.  Simply put, the only material choice when designing functional swim shorts that will meet users’ requirements is synthetic. 

 

“In terms of functionality, swimwear made from synthetic fabrics is really the only practical option unless you swim naked.”

Riz Smith

 

We must therefore be considerate in how we use it, where we source it from, what advice we give to our customers and consider what we can do as a company to make the most of the material and facilitate it’s recycling and reuse by creating a circular economy.

 

What Are We Doing?

Sourcing 100% recycled polyester, inviting customers to send us their old shorts back for repair or to be recycled into new fabric, and working to develop a fabric made from plastic bottles collected from beach cleans does not, unfortunately, do anything to resolve this issue.  To help stem the tide of plastic microfibres into our oceans we are designing the most durable shorts that we possibly can, that transcend seasonal trends, so that you in the long-run you buy less, but you buy well.  We’re also keeping abreast of develops in the textiles industry, in the hope that possible solutions can be industry led and that we can get on board early.

 

What Can You Do To Help?

Wash your swim shorts less frequently.  Ideally, wash all synthetic clothing less frequently, although we appreciate that can be difficult with items such as gym or yoga wear.  Wash a full load rather than half load (to reduce friction between clothing that releases more microfibres) and on a cool wash cycle using a liquid detergent rather than powder, then line dry.  Regarding the rest of your wardrobe, we encourage you to buy less, but buy well; avoid “fast fashion” items that are often poorly made using synthetic fabrics or blends, and if possible choose natural fibres (that are organic where possible) so that you end up with less synthetic clothes in your laundry basket.

It is possible to purchase and install washing machine lint filters (similar to the trap that you find in tumble-dryers), however these are expensive.  If shopping for a new washing machine then look for a model that has one built-in, and beware of and avoid combo washer-dryers such as those made by Hoover that discharge the lint from the dryer with wastewater.

Consider purchasing and using an innovative Guppy Friend wash bag, when they become available.  Developed by Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, two German friends who co-own a chain of surf and outdoor stores, the Guppy Bag has been proven to trap up to 99% of fibres.  You wash your clothes as normal, but simply place them in the bag before putting them in the wash, and scoop the trapped fibres from the inside of the bag once dry to dispose of in the bin.  We've spoken with Alexander about assisting with fabric testing, and assisting with entry into the UK market.  Initially Patagonia will be retailing Guppy Bags, at the cost of buying and shipping so won’t be making a profit from them.  They’re likely to retail for between $20-$30 when they go on sale.

 

We acknowledge that plastic microfibre pollution is a problem that we here at Riz are a part of.  We all are, whether as designers and producers of the clothes that form the basis of the problem, or as the consumers who wear and wash them.  By taking small steps together though, we can all start to make a bigger difference.

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Sunny Cove Studios
London
UK