From research journals and news headlines to social posts, there is increasing attention to microplastics in our environment. People are listening and seeking ways to help with change. Forty percent of respondents say they are aware of the concerns that microfibers from clothing are polluting our oceans and waters, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey in February 2022, up from 35% in 2021.
The same survey notes, most consumers (66%) who are aware of microplastic pollution, know that much of this pollution is caused by washing of clothing made from synthetic fibers.
“Cotton’s versatility and durability makes it an ideal ingredient for reusable products,” says Mary Ankeny, vice president of Product Development and Implementation Operations for Cotton Incorporated. “All fabrics shed microfibers or fiber fragments through everyday wash and wear. It’s important to understand the origin of the fiber and what happens in the environment as those fibers build up or break down when developing products and shopping for clothing, sheets, towels, and personal care products.”
In 2020, Cotton Incorporated experts led research to show impacts of fabric fibers. Cotton microfibers are natural and biodegrade in tested water environments in about a month’s time compared to non-biodegradable synthetic fibers like polyester. Further research in 2021 demonstrated that cotton microfibers treated with common textile finishes, such as silicone softener, durable press finish, water repellent finish, and dye, biodegrade by more than 60% over a period of three months; a rate similar to a natural oak leaf.
“Shocking scientific research about microplastics in our drinking water and the impact plastic pollution is having on our environment is getting people’s attention,” comments Dr. Jesse Daystar, Cotton Incorporated’s vice president and chief sustainability officer. “Cotton is a plant-based and renewable ingredient. It can pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and nourish the soil; it can break down in water or soil. Discarded fabrics or garments can be recycled into something new. These benefits continue to position cotton as the go-to fiber for the fashion and textile industry looking to change sustainability standards.” Read more about textile recycling at https://cottontoday.cottoninc.com/our-sustainability-story/circularity/recyclability/.
Tips for minimizing microplastic pollution:
- Check the label for cotton when buying clothing and home goods like sheets and towels
- Wash clothing only when soiled instead after every wear
- Wash in cold water
- Air dry clothing or don’t overpack the dryer to minimize friction
Learn more about cotton fabric care at https://thefabricofourlives.com/care-tips.
Check out the following Cotton Incorporated sites to learn more about cotton as a solution to microplastic pollution from our experts including dedicated content throughout July.
- CottonToday, science-based facts and cotton research for sustainability-focused professionals. Learn more at https://cottontoday.cottoninc.com/our-sustainability-story/microfibers/.
- Lifestyle MonitorTM, data and analysis supporting brand and retail decision makers. Discover insights at https://lifestylemonitor.cottoninc.com.
- CottonWorksTM, providing tools and resources for textile professionals and students. Read more at https://www.cottonworks.com/en/topics/sustainability/cotton-sustainability.
- Blue Jeans Go GreenTM consumer denim recycling program, learn more at https://bluejeansgogreen.org/.
- The Fabric of Our Lives®, cotton’s latest styles, fabrics and care tips, visit https://thefabricofourlives.com.
About Cotton Incorporated
Cotton Incorporated (https://www.cottoninc.com/) is the research and promotion company for Upland cotton. Funded by U.S. cotton growers and importers of Upland cotton-containing products, the not-for-profit organization’s mission is to increase the demand for and profitability of cotton. As a resource for the cotton industry, Cotton Incorporated conducts or oversees more than 450 research and educational projects in an average year. Research areas range from the development of agricultural and textile innovations to analyses of commodity and market data. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.