In previous blogs, I have discussed the issue of microfibers from apparel, released primarily during washing, making their way through municipal waste treatment facilities and ending up in rivers and oceans. I presented common sense solutions to the problem in my initial blog on the subject and recently discussed a solution provided by Parkdale and Intrinsic Textiles, linked here. Now Polartec® has developed a fabric, called Power Air, with effective insulating properties which sheds 5 to 10 times less microfiber than conventional fleece. A link to their promotional information is here. Since fleece is a major contributor to the microfiber problem, the introduction of insulating fabric which sheds less is a move in the right direction.
I’ve long been a fan of Polartec®, which has a history of providing sustainable solutions. They were one of the first brands to recognize the value of Repreve®, becoming a partner with Unifi early in our development and providing credibility which likely translated to subsequent adoptions by other brands. So, their development of a fabric which sheds less is not surprising and certainly welcome. It appears to be, however, just a small step. In studies I have referenced in previous blogs, new fleece fabric has been shown to shed roughly 100 times more fibers in washing than say, a circular knit athletic shirt made from continuous polyester filament. Interestingly, after 2 or 3 washings, that fleece was shown in those studies to shed roughly 10 times less in subsequent washings. So, a 5 to 10 times reduction, while significant, appears to only be about as good as a prewashed fleece and still releases 10 to 20 times more fiber than from other polyester fabrics. It is not mentioned in the promotional information, but it is likely Power Air will shed less after a few washings, which could bring its shedding performance closer to a circular knit polyester flat fabric. In any case, Power Air is a positive step. I hope brands and retailers are willing to pay for the improvement, though history tells me adoption will be limited to brands who truly care about sustainability beyond just paying it lip service. Unfortunately, my experience is those are few and far between. To have a significant effect on this problem, the majority of brands and retailers will have to take meaningful action.
If the apparel industry, brands and retailers are really serious about addressing the microfiber problem, I feel the most effective path available today would be to:
· Require factory prewashing of garments shown to shed microfibers, utilizing commercially available filter technology to capture them during washing and rinsing (if the garments are polyester, the fibers caught in the filters can easily be recycled),
· Support government legislated requirements for easily maintained outflow filters on all new washing machines (granted this likely moves the microfibers from oceans and waterways to a landfill, but in my mind that is a lesser evil), and,
· Develop, evaluate and use modified polymers which quickly bio-degrade in municipal waste management facilities, landfills, and sea water. CiCLO(r) polymer being offered by Parkdale Advanced Materials, Inc. would be a good starting point.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to comment below.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year!