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Microplastic pollution from textiles: A literature review

Author(s): Project report No 1-2018

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The objective of this report is to give an overview of the current state of knowledge concerning microplastic pollution. We focus on microplastic fibres (microfibres) from textiles.

The review is a part of a larger work towards better accounting for the use phase in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of apparel. Microplastic pollution of marine and freshwater environments has been identified as of concern for only about two decades, but there is now significant evidence of negative impacts on aquatic habitats and marine organisms, while less is known about impact on human health.

Estimates suggest that as much as 20% to 35% of all primary source microplastics in the marine environment were fibres from synthetic clothing, and the amount is increasing. Microfibres can enter the environment through primary sources that include fibres shed from synthetic apparel and textiles during use and washing or through secondary sources, predominantly degradation and fragmentation of larger pieces of synthetic textile waste. More than 60% of global textiles are now produced from synthetic fibres. The report reviews current understanding of the level of microplastic, including microfibres from textiles pollution, and its environmental impacts. It summarizes knowledge of which textiles and washing methods appear to contribute more significantly, and discusses challenges of including the microfibre problem in LCA studies of apparel and textiles.

It gives a preliminary synthesis of strategies to reduce pollution of microfibres in three main categories: 

1. Reducing production and consumption of clothing
2. Improving consumer practices in the use phase of synthetic garments
3. Replace use of synthetic fibres with natural fibres where possible.

Rapportforside: Microplastic pollution from textiles: A literature review
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Project report


Oslo: Consumption Research Norway