There's been a bit of chatter about microplastics in the last year, particularly since David Attenborough got everyone suddenly fired up about plastic pollution with Blue Planet 2. I wrote about Safia Minney talking about microfibres back in February's blog. I've been thinking about the implications of them on Lost Shapes' decisions on and off since.
But this week the big guys have weighed in: The Institute of Mechanical Engineers have published a report on the sustainability of the fashion industry, nicely summarised here by My Green Pod. It estimates that 'each time an item of clothing is washed, up to 700,000 microscopic fibres make their way into our oceans'. These microscopic fibres come off all our clothes that contain plastic - that's anything with polyester, nylon, acrylic, and many more new fabrics - are too small for water treatment facilities to catch, so end up in water systems, rivers, seas, and eventually fish.
Also this week, Friends of the Earth have launched a petition urging retailers to take action on microplastics in clothes, specifically asking them to:
1. Identify the worst-offending materials in their clothing.
2. Find alternatives that don't harm people and the environment.
As a consumer, I'm all behind this, and look optimistically forward to seeing a whole lot less plastic in clothing options, but as Lost Shapes - well, you need to know what I'm thinking:
Before we knew about microplastics, recycling seemed like a good solution to the unwanted single-use plastic around. On the basis of this, and in good faith, I have printed some of the Lost Shapes range on sweatshirts made from a mix of organic cotton off-cuts, and recycled plastic bottles - the Salvage range. It seemed a perfect solution. I've also more reluctantly used sweatshirts that, while predominantly made from organic cotton, had a small amount of polyester for strength.
Trying to do the best for the environment is tricky, and it's just that - TRYING. There's always balance, and I'd be very suspicious of any brand that said it has sustainability all sorted. It would be easy to just say that I'll no longer sell anything with polyester in, and if I made a big deal of that, it would be quite good for marketing. But the truth is, I have a fair amount of those sweatshirts still in stock, we've heard plenty about brands like Burberry and H+M burning unwanted stock, and that's clearly much worse than fibres from a small percentage of polyester coming out in the wash...
So here's the policy I've been working to for the last few months:
1. Continue to sell garments already in stock that contain small amounts of polyester.
2. Don't buy any more polyester/ acrylic/ nylon etc.
3. Source alternatives that are made solely from organic cotton, or blended with natural fibres such as tencel.
In the meantime, while we wait for big brands to respond to this challenge, Friends of the Earth have some great tips to minimise the impact of the clothes you have here. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and how other brands respond.
NO MORE BLOGGING
I stopped writing this blog a while ago - social media just seems a more responsive way to share ideas these days (plus I never got 'round to it!). I'll leave these posts up for now for anyone who wants to get a bit more of a sense of what's behind what I do.