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Fashion's climate crisis: British university to tackle industry's carbon problem

Researchers from Plymouth University have previously shown that each load of laundry can result in countless fibres being released into the environment
Researchers from Plymouth University have previously shown that each load of laundry can result in countless fibres being released into the environment Copyright University of Plymouth
Copyright University of Plymouth
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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Plymouth University will play an integral role in multi-million project aiming to drive the decarbonisation of the fashion and textile industry.

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A British university has announced it is taking part in a high profile project which aims to drive the decarbonisation of the fashion and textile industry.

The University of Plymouth is playing an integral role in the Future Fibres Network+ (or FFN+) research, which will work towards embedding environmental sciences at the heart of the fashion and textile sectors.

The £1.6 million (approximately €1.85m) project will shed further light on sustainability - or lack of - in the fashion industry.

Research conducted by Plymouth as well as the Universities of Exeter, Leeds, Blackburn, Huddersfield and the University of the Arts London is set to delve more into the necessity of a sustainable approach to the industry.

University of Plymouth
The university's research has suggested that one person could release more than 900 million polyester microfibres to the air by simply wearing clothesUniversity of Plymouth

The clothing and apparel market remains a key part of the UK and the global economy, but it continues to be one of the greatest environmental polluters throughout the supply chain.

Plymouth University has previously used research to highlight how microfibres can be released into wastewater during the laundry process and how mechanical devices are able to prevent this release.

They’ve also discovered clothing fibres in places you’d likely not expect - including on the slopes of Mount Everest and in the Ganges as well as in the deepest oceans.

Professor Richard Thompson has also given evidence to the UK parliament about the sustainability of the fashion industry.

In his capacity as the university’s head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit, he explains, “This is a fantastic forward-thinking and proactive project. Over the next two years, it will build a committed community of researchers across the disciplines along with key stakeholders across the fashion supply chain”.

Francesca De Falco
FFN+ research insist everyone from designers to retailers, policy makers to consumers has a role to play in the future sustainability of the fashion industryFrancesca De Falco

“By bringing existing initiatives and research together and identifying key gaps, this project will help the fashion industry – from designers to consumers – to be sustainable for everyone: the economy, people and the planet,” adds Thompson. 

The professor and the team behind the project will work towards the creation of a circular fashion model, which will aim to reduce microfibre pollution to the environment while delivering positive changes for both the sector and society.

They’re hoping to instil this knowledge into the minds of the next generation of fashion designers, encouraging them to understand the challenges of lessening the environmental impact of the textile industry on the natural world.

The FFN+ project is one of a number of initiatives around the globe with the aim of making both fast and luxury fashion less damaging.

University of Plymouth
A microscope image showing fabric captured by fibre-catching devices fitted to the filtration system of a washing machineUniversity of Plymouth

Keeping in mind that the industry is one of the world’s greatest polluters, responsible for about 20% of the planet’s waste water and around 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union has a plan.

Last month, the EU adopted recommendations including policies to make clothes tougher, repairable and recyclable, also backing regulations which ensure production respects human, social and label rights, animal welfare and the environment throughout the entire supply chain.

They’re also hoping to move away from a linear fashion production model to a circular one, namely one in which every garment can be reused, recycled or made to be biodegradable and compostable.

Despite leaving the European Union, the UK is similarly invested. The FFN+ project is part of a £15 million (approx. €17.5m) programme headed up by the country’s Research and Innovation department.

That aims to build awareness of the importance of circular fashion - before it’s too late.

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