SGS Helps Manufacturers and Retailers React to the Problem of Microfibers

As our understanding of the dangers of microfibers increases, authorities and brands begin to look for ways to reduce their impact. SGS has developed an in-house microfiber testing method to help manufacturers.
( | Press Release | 2018-08-07 11:39:31 )
The full impact of natural water supplies contaminated with plastic is becoming clear. It is common to read stories about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating island of plastic debris – but what is less well known is the damage being done by small, practically invisible plastic particulates, known as microfibers. Things are changing, and this almost hidden problem is beginning to regularly appear in the news. As authorities and the public become aware of the issue, pressure is mounting on governments to introduce restrictions and on manufacturers to find alternatives.

Microfibers are plastic particulates that are typically fractions of a millimeter in diameter and are less than 5 mm long. A principle source of microfibers seems to be textiles, particularly garments and household textiles that require regular laundering. Microfibers are released during the washing process, allowing them to enter our waterways because wastewater treatment systems are currently unable to filter them out.

Part of the concern with microfibers is their ability to absorb harmful chemical substances, like phthalates (commonly found as a plasticizer but restricted in both US and European Union (EU) markets in finished garment products) and lead. Since research has shown that microfibers can be found in the digestive tracts of many small aquatic organisms; these harmful chemicals will become concentrated as they move up the food chain and could potentially be very harmful by the time they reach us.

Laundry requires the garment to be agitated in the washing machine to get the detergent to work and this causes damage to the fabric’s surface. Fleece products made from synthetic fibers, and which have fabric surfaces that are mechanically damaged to create the raised surface required for hand-feel and thermal resistance properties, are particularly prone to fiber shredding in the wash. These products typically shred significantly more microfibers during a standard domestic wash than plain fabrics.

As the threat of microfibers becomes understood, several organizations and authorities are introducing measures to address the problem. These include the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), European Cross Industry Agreement Group (CIA), the US Government and the EU. OIA has made microfibers one of their seven priority issues under their sustainability work group, and the CIA has begun technical meetings to address the problem.

In addition, the US state of California is currently considering a law to emphasis the fiber shredding properties of polyester made garments and fabrics., and the European Commission has asked the European Chemicals Agency to prepare proposals for possible restrictions concerning microplastic particles on consumer products. The US has also passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, a Federal law banning rinse-off cosmetic products that contain intentionally added plastic microbeads, which came into effect in January 2018.

There is some research that clothes laundered in specially made washing bags will release far less microfibers into the water system but the problem still remains of how to dispose of the caught microfibers!

SGS Textile Solutions
Currently, there are no official testing methods to evaluate fiber shedding in garments and fabrics. With no standard benchmark available, it is therefore hard to evaluate whether a fabric is good or bad in terms of its fiber shredding properties.

To help manufacturers, SGS has developed an in-house method for microfiber testing and they are collaborating with relevant standards organizations to draft a new test method.

To learn more about our textile testing services, contact:

Brian Lo
Senior Technical Services Executive, Softlines
SGS Hong Kong Limited

About SGS
SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 95,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,400 offices and laboratories around the world.

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Ben Christie

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