In 2025, there is one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the oceans, and in 2050 the weight of plastic has overtaken that of fish. While the cause of this future scenario would largely be the work of plastic bottles and other types of packaging, part of the blame falls on our clothing. So denim giant G-Star and marine pollution campaign group the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSP) are joining forces to stop this process in its tracks with a battle against microfiber.
Machine washing of clothes is a major contributor to plastic pollution in the oceans. Every time we do laundry, garments made from synthetic fabrics such as fleece and polyester shed small plastic fibers that end up in the water and pollute rivers and oceans.
“Leading European research recently showed that a fleece releases an incredible 1 million microfibers every time it is washed,” says Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation. “If you imagine that every day a couple of billion people around the world wash their clothing and that almost every item of clothing contains plastic nowadays, you can easily see why it is imperative to deal with this cause of the plastic soup immediately. G-Star is the first fashion brand that recognizes and supports the need for innovation.”
In 2014, G-Star RAW teamed up with music producer and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams on RAW for the Oceans, a line of denim apparel that incorporates material from Bionic Yarn, Williams’ company that upcycles marine plastic into fabric. By 2020, G-Star aims to use 100 percent recycled material as an alternative to conventional polyester.
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“With RAW for the Oceans, we were the first to make denim from recycled ocean plastic and we are now starting to completely replace the 10 percent conventional polyester in our collection with recycled plastic,” said Frouke Bruinsma, Corporate Responsibility Director for G-Star. “We want to continue to create progress through sustainable innovation and join forces with the Plastic Soup Foundation to battle the microfiber problem. Only a strong alliance of dedicated stakeholders around the world can turn the tide. Everyone — enterprises and NGOs — is welcome to join us.”
PSP and G-Star are calling on other fashion companies, washing machine manufacturers and the textile industry to support the international charter, Ocean Clean Wash. Signatories of the initiative will contribute to the development of one or more innovative solutions to prevent the release of plastic fibers from garments in the future, such as fabrics that do not release microfibers or washing machine filters that capture the released fibers. Technological center LEITAT is collaborating to research the technical feasibility of the solutions proposed.
Brands likely to support the initiative include adidas, which not only produced the first shoe midsole made from ocean plastic but has also called on industry to use its collective power to find long-term solutions to the problem; and Interface, which turns abandoned fishing nets into carpet and recently built a boat from more than 7,000 plastic bottles fished from the canals of Amsterdam.
Recent reports have revealed the presence of five trillion pieces of plastic floating in the oceans (and roughly 10,000 times more than that resting on the floor) and plastic particles in a quarter of the world’s fish. A number of other brands, materials and technologies are dedicated to recovering plastic waste from the oceans or preventing it in the first place — and with the natural capital value of healthy oceans estimated at $24 trillion and the market potential of a circular economy for plastics thought to be roughly $80-120 billion annually, a shift in that direction would be in everyone’s interests.