The ocean covers two-thirds of our planet and is home to an array of unique animal and plant species. We rely on the ocean for the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat and the water that sustain life on earth. However, growing pressures driven by unsustainable human activity are creating significant losses in wildlife, and contamination and destruction of once pristine environments. Oceans are now warming with harmful consequences for marine life and coastal communities, and plastic pollution threatens human and animal health.
The fashion industry’s impact
Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year – the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles – and that doesn’t take into account the microfibers discharged in the production phases. It has been estimated that 1.4 quadrillion microfibers are already in the oceans, and if the fashion industry continues in a business-as-usual scenario, 22 million tons of microfibers will have entered our oceans by 2050. 35% of the microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic textiles. Given microplastics ability to be passed up the food chain, they potentially have an effect on aquatic life, birds and even humans. Swallowed by fish and other sea life, they finally end up on our own plates. Greenhouse gases are also acidifying the oceans, changing their chemistry faster than at any point in 300 million years.
What we need to do
The industry must cut the use of plastic-based textiles and chemicals to protect the oceans, find ways to process yarns so they shred less and scale solutions for filter and treatment in both production and user phases. Limiting the use of plastic-based materials and chemicals in all steps of the apparel supply chain can help sustaining healthy coastal and marine ecosystems, including protecting and restoring seagrass and kelp forests, coral reeves and other marine life. As well as catalyse sustainable fisheries management, and address pollution reduction in marine environments – including marine debris, particularly plastic litter pollution.
At the other end of the lifecycle, consumers must change their behaviour when caring for and washing their garments.