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Analysis of the polyester clothing value chain to identify key intervention points for sustainability


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Clothing is one of the primary human needs, and the demand is met by the global production of thousands of tons of textile fibers, fabrics and garments every day. Polyester clothing manufactured from oil-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the market leader. Conventional PET creates pollution along its entire value chain—during the production, use and end-of-life phases—and also contributes to the unsustainable depletion of resources. The consumption of PET garments thus compromises the quality of land, water and air, destroys ecosystems, and endangers human health. In this article, we discuss the different stages of the value chain for polyester clothing from the perspective of sustainability, describing current environmental challenges such as pollution from textile factory wastewater, and microfibers released from clothing during the laundry cycle. We also consider potential solutions such as enhanced reuse and recycling. Finally, we propose a series of recommendations that should be applied to polyester clothing at all stages along the value chain, offering the potential for meaningful and effective change to improve the environmental sustainability of polyester textiles on a global scale.
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2‑020‑00447‑x
Analysis ofthepolyester clothing value
chain toidentify key intervention points
Cristina Palacios‑Mateo* , Yvonne van der Meer and Gunnar Seide
Clothing is one of the primary human needs, and the demand is met by the global production of thousands of tons
of textile fibers, fabrics and garments every day. Polyester clothing manufactured from oil‑based polyethylene tereph‑
thalate (PET) is the market leader. Conventional PET creates pollution along its entire value chain—during the produc‑
tion, use and end‑of‑life phases—and also contributes to the unsustainable depletion of resources. The consumption
of PET garments thus compromises the quality of land, water and air, destroys ecosystems, and endangers human
health. In this article, we discuss the different stages of the value chain for polyester clothing from the perspective
of sustainability, describing current environmental challenges such as pollution from textile factory wastewater, and
microfibers released from clothing during the laundry cycle. We also consider potential solutions such as enhanced
reuse and recycling. Finally, we propose a series of recommendations that should be applied to polyester clothing at
all stages along the value chain, offering the potential for meaningful and effective change to improve the environ‑
mental sustainability of polyester textiles on a global scale.
Keywords: PET, Textiles, Value chain, Environmental sustainability, Microfibers, Pollution, Recycling, Life cycle
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permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creat iveco
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e global volume of fiber production for textile manu-
facturing reached 110 million metric tons in 2018 [1]
making clothing and textiles the fourth largest industry
in the world [2]. About two-thirds of all textile fibers are
synthetic, and more than half are made from oil-based
polyester [1]. Fiber production for textile manufacturing
has doubled in the past 20years even though the popu-
lation has only grown by 25% over the same period [3].
is increase, which poses severe challenges to sustain-
ability, can be correlated with fast fashion trends in which
consumers expect new products in stores almost every
week, while more than 30% of the clothes purchased in
Europe have not been worn for at least one year [4]. At
the same time, the longevity of clothing has declined,
with 2019 estimates in Germany suggesting an average
lifetime of only 4.4years [5].
e combination of increased consumption and
shorter garment longevity has led to an increase in global
textile waste, which rose to ~ 92 million tons in 2015 [6].
e textile industry also generated 1.7 billion tons of CO2
emissions in 2015 and consumed 79 billion cubic meters
of water, which is detrimental to the environment and
causes pollution that may put human health at risk. Fur-
thermore, factory workers in the textile industry have a
higher than average prevalence of respiratory diseases
and allergies [7]. In a “business-as-usual” scenario, the
quantity of textile waste and corresponding resource con-
sumption and emissions will increase 50% by 2030 [6]. In
order to prevent this and improve sustainability, a com-
prehensive analysis of the textiles value chain is required
to identify key points for intervention.
e overall value chain for all fiber materials has
been reviewed [8, 9]. However, given the large share of
Open Access
Aachen Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (AMIBM), Faculty
of Science and Engineering, Maastricht University, Urmonderbaan 22,
6167 RD Geleen, The Netherlands
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
polyester textiles, it is necessary to understand the sus-
tainability of this material in particular and set targets
for improvement along this specific value chain. In this
article, we therefore discuss the life cycle of conventional
polyester and the unsustainable factors at each stage of
the value chain as a starting point to define the measures
needed to achieve improved environmental sustainability.
First, we explain the production of a polyester garment,
from raw material extraction (mainly crude oil) to textile
confection and distribution. We then consider the use
phase, including state-of-the-art information concerning
issues such as microfiber release. We also describe differ-
ent disposal routes and the latest recycling technologies.
Recommendations to achieve improved sustainabil-
ity along the value chain are presented throughout the
text and are summarized at the end in the form of three
e sustainability of value chains can be assessed
according to the three dimensions of the triple-bottom
line: economic, environmental and social impact [10].
Here we focus on the environmental impacts of the cur-
rent polyester apparel value chain, including manufac-
ture, use and waste management. Environmental impacts
include greenhouse gas emissions (also described as the
carbon footprint or climate change impact), other emis-
sions to air, emissions to water and land, depletion of
resources, non-renewable energy use, land use, water
use, and reduced ecosystem quality. Social and economic
sustainability are not discussed in detail, although some
aspects linked to environmental impacts are mentioned,
such as the effect of toxic emissions on health. Polyeth-
ylene terephthalate (PET) is currently the predominant
polyester material [11]. Accordingly, when we refer to
polyester fibers, textiles and garments, this means PET
unless otherwise stated.
Production phase
e different industries involved in the conventional
value chain for polyester apparel are summarized in
Fig.1. e value chain begins with the oil industry, which
extracts and refines the crude oil to generate building
blocks used by the chemical industry to produce PET
and other chemicals (additives). e chemical industry
then supplies PET pellets or chips to the textile industry,
which converts the pellets into fibers by extrusion and
spinning, and then into fabrics by knitting or weaving.
is process also involves the incorporation of dyes and
additives to impart particular qualities to the fibers and
fabrics. Finally, the clothing industry cuts and sews the
fabric into garments and makes them available in retail
All these steps require significant amounts of energy, as
much as 125MJ/kg polyester fiber [12], which results in
the emission of 27.2kg CO2 eq/kg polyester woven fabric
[8]. Furthermore, the poor management of residues along
the supply chain can cause soil and water pollution via
the direct release of wastewater containing dyes and/or
chemicals into nearby water bodies. is not only affects
the environment but also the health of the communities
living nearby.
e dyeing and finishing step is ranked first in terms
of environmental unsustainability, considering the fol-
lowing five impact indicators: climate change, freshwa-
ter withdrawal (which includes water use and emissions
to water), depletion of resources, ecosystem quality, and
human health [8, 13]. Yarn preparation is ranked second,
Fig. 1 Conventional value chain for polyester garments
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
followed by fiber production (including raw material
extraction and polymerization). e stage of the manu-
facturing process that less impact seems to have in the
environment is distribution. Each of these steps is con-
sidered in more detail below.
Raw material extraction andprocessing
e production of conventional polyester apparel starts
with the extraction of crude oil. is non-renewable fos-
sil fuel resource consists of thousands of different organic
compounds, including pure hydrocarbons, and mole-
cules with functional groups containing oxygen, nitrogen,
sulfur and certain minerals [14]. is mixture is trapped
within rock layers deep underground and is extracted by
drilling and pumping, which consumes energy and dis-
rupts the surrounding ecosystem.
Because crude oil is such a complex mix, it must be
refined and processed to obtain the building blocks of
PET, namely ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid (TPA).
is is achieved by heating, distillation and other pro-
cesses that release harmful toxins such as BTEX com-
pounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene),
particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx), SO2 and CO.
If not controlled, these compounds can contribute to air
pollution and global warming [15].
Furthermore, oil and the chemicals used during extrac-
tion are often spilled. For example, 2811 spills were
reported by oil and gas companies in Colorado, New
Mexico and Wyoming in 2019, nearly eight per day,
amounting to 23,600 barrels of oil and 170,223 barrels
of wastewater [16]. is has detrimental effects on the
surrounding population and the environment. In Nige-
ria, oil extraction has damaged soil fertility, destroyed
wildlife and affected fishing activities due the spillage of
toxic compounds [17]. Given that most residents of the
Niger Delta depend on agriculture and fisheries, this has
severely limited their income and affected their lives.
Furthermore, high levels of heavy metals such as chro-
mium, lead and arsenic were found in their food, posing
serious threats to health [18]. e better management of
oil resources to reduce the number and severity of spills
would improve the surrounding environment and thus
the livelihood and health of its residents. However, the
major constraint is the lack of enforcement of existing
regulations [18].
e building blocks for PET can also be obtained from
recycled materials (see Recycling” section) or renew-
able resources such as CO2 and biomass. Given the abun-
dance of CO2 and the threat it poses, carbon capture and
utilization is now considered not only viable but pos-
sibly essential for future value chains. Laboratory-scale
electrochemical systems can efficiently convert CO2
into chemical building blocks (such as ethylene glycol)
to obtain polymers [19] but more research and develop-
ment is required to optimize and scale up this technol-
ogy [20]. Whereas CO2 conversion technology is not yet
mature, ethylene glycol has been produced from biomass
for many years, and industrial biobased processes for
the production of TPA are emerging [21]. However, the
economic feasibility of biobased production is currently
limited [22]. As a consequence, less than 1% of PET pro-
duction in 2018 was partially biobased, meaning that eth-
ylene glycol was derived from biobased sources, but TPA
was still produced from oil [23].
It is important to note that renewable materials are
often considered sustainable, but this may or may not
be the case depending on the raw material, production
process and energy source. It is therefore necessary to
verify the environmental sustainability of biobased and
CO2-based solutions using quantitative evaluations, such
as life cycle assessment (LCA). For example, a compari-
son of biobased TPA (produced from corn, sugarcane and
orange peel) and TPA produced from oil [24] revealed
that first-generation raw materials (corn and sugarcane)
had a similar environmental impact to oil, mainly due to
the depletion of resources and the extra land required for
crop cultivation. In contrast, the biobased route involving
second-generation materials, specifically the upcycling of
side-streams such as orange peel, achieved the most sus-
tainable solution with the lowest environmental impact
because it did not involve resource extraction or land
use and made use of resources that would otherwise be
Key recommendations to improve the sustainability of
polyester manufacturing at the raw material stage there-
fore include phasing out the use of fossil fuels as a mate-
rial source for PET production and for the provision of
energy. e raw materials can be replaced with recycled
chemicals and/or renewable feedstocks, depending on
which has the smallest environmental footprint (verified
through LCA) and the energy requirements can be pro-
vided by renewable sources.
Polymer synthesis
Ethylene glycol and TPA react by condensation to form
ethylene terephthalate units, which are then linked via
ester bonds (CO–O) to form the long chains of PET
(Fig.2). In theory, ester bonds can be hydrolyzed, which
means PET can be de-polymerized, but the large aro-
matic ring gives PET notable stiffness and strength, espe-
cially when the polymer chains are arranged in an orderly
manner as in the case of textile fibers, making PET highly
resistant to biodegradation at its end-of-life phase [25].
e poly-condensation process requires high tempera-
tures (up to 290°C) and catalysts such as metal oxides or
metal acetates [25]. e wastewater contains chemical
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
residues, and appropriate disposal is therefore necessary.
e smart management of resources and residues can
help to improve this process, and the use of renewable
energy is recommended where possible because the gen-
eration of high temperatures results in significant CO2
emissions if fossil energy is used. In the final step, PET is
compressed into pellets for sale. ese pellets are consid-
ered a subgroup of microplastics and cause detrimental
effects in the environment if spilled during distribution
Textile production
PET pellets are melted, extruded and spun into filaments
(Fig.3). ese filaments are then subjected to a thermal
drawing process to improve mechanical properties such
as tenacity. During the drawing process, PET molecules
are reoriented in the fiber direction and crystallize. e
crystallinity of the fiber therefore depends on the applied
draw ratio [27].
Drawn filaments are then combined and further pro-
cessed in different ways to form yarns with specific
characteristics [28]. ere are many ways to combine
filaments into yarns, depending on the final application
of the textile. Yarns can have a high twist (which pro-
vides structural integrity), a low twist or no twist. ey
can be prepared from short staple fibers or longer infi-
nite filaments. Similarly, yarns can be texturized at dif-
ferent levels to make them softer or more flexible, which
can be achieved by the thermal or mechanical deforma-
tion of individual filaments. e total amount of energy
consumed during this step depends on the thickness
of the yarn, because thinner yarn has a lower energy
demand per kilogram [29]. Regardless of the yarn prop-
erties, renewable energy is recommended to reduce CO2
Yarns are then knitted or weaved to produce fabric,
which is confected into garments. is involves pattern-
cutting (mechanical or thermal) and sewing. e smarter
the pattern-cutting process, the less waste is generated.
Unused fabric cut-outs (along with fiber and yarn resi-
dues) are known as production waste, which can repre-
sent up to 30% of the fabric involved in confection [30]. A
smart design process using software that minimizes the
size of cut-out pieces and, if possible, recycles this waste
Fig. 2 Synthesis of PET from ethylene glycol and TPA
Fig. 3 Spinning process from pellet to fiber
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
back into the textile chain, is already widely used in the
textile industry, and sets a good example of sustainable
manufacturing [31].
Microfibers are released into the air during garment
manufacturing and can stay there as airborne fibers [32].
e term microfiber, as understood by the environmental
science community, refers to fibers that are 1µm to 5mm
in length, with a length to diameter ratio greater than 100
[33]. Given the high aspect ratio and surface area of such
fibers, compounds that bind to the surface can accumu-
late as environmental pollutants [34]. Microfibers are
considered a subgroup of microplastics and can detach
from textiles throughout their life cycle due to mechani-
cal forces.
Factory workers come into contact with microfib-
ers, synthetic dyes and petrochemicals on a daily basis
through inhalation or skin contact, putting their health
at risk and increasing the prevalence of respiratory dis-
orders (including asthma and interstitial lung disease)
and allergies [7]. Long-term exposure (10–20 years) is
also associated with a higher incidence of lung cancer
[35]. is is analogous to asbestos, a mineral fiber that is
banned in many countries [36] due to its harmful effect
on the lungs, leading to a specific type of cancer known
as mesothelioma [37].
Pigments and colorants can be applied to textiles at dif-
ferent production stages. ey can be mixed with the
melted polymer, or added to fibers, yarns, fabrics or gar-
ments using different techniques that vary in their envi-
ronmental impact [11].
e traditionally popular method is batch-dyeing,
which consumes up to 150L water/kg fabric [6]. Here,
textile products (fibers, yarns, fabrics or garments) are
submerged in an aqueous solution containing dyes and
chemicals such as dispersing agents and carriers. Some
of these chemicals may be hazardous [38] and the waste-
water must be treated before disposal or reuse. Wastewa-
ter treatment is common practice in Europe, but other
textile-producing countries pump wastewater directly
into water bodies [29] causing environmental pollution
through emissions to land and water, and thus direct
harm to the ecosystem [39]. Approximately 20% of global
water pollution is attributed to the dyeing and finish-
ing of textile products [2]. Furthermore, PET fibers are
hydrophobic and highly crystalline, so thermal assistance
is required during batch-dyeing so that pigments can
penetrate the fiber [11]. is emits 2.31–4.14kg CO2 eq/
kg finished textile into the atmosphere [29].
A more recent method for the dyeing of synthetic fab-
rics or garments uses supercritical CO2 as a solvent [40].
Non-polar dyes readily dissolve in supercritical CO2,
avoiding the use of water or chemicals. Furthermore, this
method can use CO2 captured from industrial emissions
and recycle it in a closed-loop system. However, high
pressure is required to generate supercritical CO2 (170–
270bar) which increases energy consumption [40]. e
energy costs and capital investment needed for super-
critical CO2 dyeing makes this method unappealing for
many companies. Only a few offer this technology, for
example DyeCoo in the Netherlands.
Another method is dope dyeing, in which pigments
are extruded along with the melted polymer so that the
resulting fibers are already colored. is saves water,
energy and the further use of chemicals, and the envi-
ronmental impact is therefore 30–50% lower than that of
conventional dyeing [41]. Because the fibers are colored
at the beginning of the textile chain, a smart system
should be implemented to extrude and spin only the nec-
essary quantity of colored fibers, avoiding extra produc-
tion waste. It is easier to produce non-colored fibers in
bulk and dye them on demand later, so dope dyeing is not
widely used in the industry.
Both synthetic and natural pigments are compatible
with any of the dyeing processes outlined above. Syn-
thetic dyes are used most widely because they are stable
and inexpensive, but they persist in the environment [42],
and some trigger allergic reactions [43] or even cause
cancer [44]. Attention has therefore switched to natural
dyes [45], such as curcumin [46] and alizarin [47], which
are biodegradable and in some cases bioactive (e.g., with
antimicrobial properties) [48]. However, natural dyes
offer a limited range of colors and have a lower thermal
stability, causing them to degrade more rapidly. ey are
also more difficult to produce in bulk, making them more
suitable for small-scale production [11]. Nevertheless,
genetic engineering and fermentation technologies have
recently made it possible to obtain natural pigments on
a larger scale thanks to dye-producing microorganisms.
Although these dyes are still not widely available, com-
panies such as Colorifix (UK) and Pili (France) are cur-
rently optimizing and upscaling production, and the
Dutch company Living Colors has recently collaborated
with Puma to create a demonstrator collection using such
More than 15,000 chemicals can be used during the
textile manufacturing process, including detergents,
flame retardants, stain repellents, softeners and carri-
ers [49]. On average, the production of 1kg of textiles
consumes 0.58kg of chemicals [9]. e residues of these
compounds (which tend not to be biodegradable) may
be discharged directly into the environment where they
spread, even entering the food chain [50]. Many of these
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
chemicals are hazardous to human health, for exam-
ple brominated flame retardants are endocrine disrup-
tors and neurotoxins [51]. erefore, the use of certain
additives combined with poor wastewater management
affects not only the health of textile workers, but also
that of the communities living nearby. ese issues have
encouraged researchers to seek biobased alternatives that
are safe and biodegradable. For example, some lignin-
based compounds are effective as flame retardants [52]
and biobased carriers have also been described for dyeing
[53]. However, the challenge for most biobased chemicals
is cost-effective and sustainable production [22], which
requires meticulous evaluation by LCA.
e sustainability of textiles at the finishing stage
would be improved by avoiding the use of hazardous
chemicals, which would satisfy circular design practices
[54] by allowing clothing to be recycled without pollut-
ing the recycling streams. Sustainability would also be
increased by reducing complexity, for example by using
fewer chemicals and avoiding fiber blends, which is also
beneficial in terms of circularity. Such an approach would
require transparency (accurate listing of the chemi-
cals and fibers used in each garment) and traceability
throughout the value chain, for example by incorporating
aspects of blockchain technology [55].
e different steps in the textile value chain are often car-
ried out in different countries or regions. Not all coun-
tries have oil reserves, so oil is extracted in one place and
transported to another for refinement and the produc-
tion of chemicals such as PET. e PET pellets may then
be shipped to another place for conversion to fibers and/
or yarns, which are in turn sent elsewhere for conversion
to fabrics, and then somewhere else for dyeing before the
fabric is confected into garments. ese are then shipped
to multiple sites for distribution to retailers.
e transport of raw materials, fibers/yarns, fabrics
and garments, and all the chemicals needed at each stage,
adds up to a large carbon footprint that contributes to
global warming. e transport sector (in general) con-
sumes approximately one-third of all energy consumed in
the EU, more than 900 million tons of CO2 equivalents
per year [195]. It is difficult to determine how much of
this can be attributed to textiles, although calculations
are available for specific sectors: for example, shipping
textile products from China generates 0.16kg CO2 eq/kg
textile [29].
As stated above, spillages of oil, chemicals and PET
pellets often occur during transportation. Legal enforce-
ment on a global scale could help to reduce spillages (or
force remedial action when spillages occur) but overall
the best approach to reduce the environmental impact of
transport costs is to build shorter supply chains between
the industries involved in textile manufacturing. is
would also improve traceability. Additionally, the prob-
ability that different countries share a similar legal frame-
work for its manufacturing practices is higher in shorter
supply chains, and it is therefore easier to hold them
Retail provides jobs all over the world (9% of total
employment in Europe in 2010) and represents one of
the main gateways to the labor market for young peo-
ple [56]. For a long time, retail has operated under a fast
fashion business model, causing garment consumption
to increase and sustainability to fall [57]. More recently,
sustainable fashion has emerged as part of the slow fash-
ion movement [58]. is advocates for better purchase
options based on:
an ethical production process,
a low environmental impact,
durability of garments (quality over quantity),
recyclability of garments (circular principles).
e slow fashion trend has also led to greenwashing
false claims of sustainability to improve brand reputa-
tion [59]. In order to avoid this, traceability must be
enforced by strict legislation to preserve the credibility
of eco-labeling, which is easier in shorter supply chains
as stated above. Another issue is that customer choice
is often driven by price and personal preference, even if
the consumer is environmentally conscious [60]. Cloth-
ing stores should therefore embrace sustainability and
include an educational component to assure customers
they are getting value for money when purchasing eco-
labeled products.
e most sustainable options for polyester garments
are recycled and second-hand clothing. However, the
former may be associated with poorer quality and the
latter are often sold in lower-profile shops [61]. Incor-
porating reused or recycled clothes among clothes from
virgin materials in a regular store could help to destigma-
tize and normalize such garments. is would also make
the purchase of sustainable clothes easier for the cus-
tomer. Zara and H&M provide examples of this strategy
with their JOIN LIFE and Conscious lines, respectively,
partly made with recycled clothing from their take-back
schemes. However, the percentage of recycled material is
not disclosed, leading the Norwegian Consumer Author-
ity to accuse H&M of greenwashing [59]. Furthermore,
most global fashion brands are known for their poor
working conditions (both for retail and factory staff) and
failure to embrace ethical fashion.
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
Other business models are emerging, such as systems
based on pre-orders to reduce pre-consumer waste, and
understanding fashion as a service through rental or
subscription-rental. Leasing clothes instead of selling
them would increase the lifespan of a garment and ensure
appropriate disposal at their end of life. e initiative
Fashion for Good published a report that confirmed the
financial viability of such circular models for established
retailers [62], although further research on environmen-
tal sustainability is required because rental models would
also increase the frequency of laundry and transport.
Use phase
LCA in the textile industry has traditionally focused on
water and energy consumption during the use phase,
due to laundry, drying and ironing [63]. e energy effi-
ciency of these processes has significantly improved over
the last few years [29] and attention has shifted towards
microfiber release from the garment to the environment
[34]. Furthermore, the use of laundry detergents has been
linked to freshwater pollution and eutrophication [64].
Depletion ofresources
During the use phase, clothes are washed, often tum-
ble dried, and ironed, which uses water and/or electric-
ity. e total consumption of resources will ultimately
depend on user behavior (e.g., frequency and tempera-
ture of washing, drying method) which varies by region,
climate, age and lifestyle [65]. ese diverse factors make
it difficult to estimate an average annual consumption
Water consumption
As part of the ATLETE II project, six laboratories across
Europe measured the performance of 50 different mod-
els of washing machine rated A for energy efficiency. e
load capacity was 6 or 7kg and the project tested differ-
ent models from all known manufactures in the Euro-
pean market. Tests were performed at 60°C full load,
60°C half load, and 40°C half load [67]. For the full-load
tests, the water consumption was 35–50L per wash, with
an average of 49L. For the half-load tests, water use was
only 21.2% lower than the full load.
Water consumption by washing machines in different
regions of the world has been evaluated based on data
published up to 2006 [65]. e average water consump-
tion per wash was 60L in Europe (where horizontal-axis
washing machines are dominant) and 144 L in North
America (where vertical-axis washers are more com-
mon). Based on assumed laundry frequencies, this rep-
resents 10,000L per year for European households and
41,000L per year in North America. Despite the assump-
tions and the outdated data, these results are qualitatively
valuable because they reflect how water consumption
per wash cycle depends on equipment (vertical-axis
machines consume more than twice the amount of water
as horizontal-axis machines) and how annual water
consumption is determined by consumer behavior. For
example, Japanese consumers often drain greywater from
the shower into the washing machine [65]. Greywater
reuse is not universal but it is common practice in coun-
tries with scarce water resources such as Israel and Aus-
tralia [68]. If correctly treated and disinfected, greywater
can be reused to flush toilets and wash laundry, although
the most common application is garden/agricultural irri-
gation and industrial uses that do not require clean water.
Similarly, the European Parliament has recently approved
a law for the safe reuse of treated wastewater in agricul-
ture [69]. Rainwater collection for laundry has also been
proposed [70]. Furthermore, because rainwater is softer
than tap water in Barcelona (where the study was carried
out), the use of rainwater for laundry could also reduce
the necessary dose of detergent by 62% with a positive
knock-on impact on the environment.
Energy consumption
About 90% of the energy consumed by washing machines
is used to heat the water, so lower-temperature washes
use less energy [71]. Previous studies have assumed that
clothes are generally washed at 60°C and then tumble
dried [63, 72]. Together with the higher energy ratings of
equipment 20–30years ago, the use phase was declared
more environmentally harmful than the production
phase. Accordingly, work focused on improving the effi-
ciency of washing and drying machines. is was encour-
aged by legislation such as EU Directives 96/60/EC and
2010/30/EU, which classified and labeled equipment from
A (best) to G (worst) based on energy consumption [73].
Most washing machines and tumble dryers currently on
the European market are rated A [29]. e average energy
consumption for a full load washed at 60°C in an A rated
machine is 0.78 kWh per wash (ranging from 0.56 to
1.05kWh) with a 17% drop for a half load at the same
temperature [67]. Consumer behavior has also changed
in the last 20–30years, with more people washing clothes
at lower temperatures (40°C rather than 60°C), which
reduces electricity consumption by 23% [67]. Some cam-
paigns, such as “I PREFER 30 °C” (2014–2016) led by
the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and
Maintenance Products (AISE), have encouraged consum-
ers to wash clothes at 30°C where possible, which saves
even more energy. In response to such campaigns, the
proportion of European consumers washing clothes at
30°C increased from 25.1% in 2014 to 31.5% in 2017, and
in Belgium the proportion rose to 44.5% [74].
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
Tumble dryers consume around five times more energy
than washing machines [29], but this can increase to 15
times more for cotton fabrics, which take longer to dry
than polyester [75]. Air-drying significantly reduces
energy consumption during the use phase of any gar-
ment, but this is not possible in all climates. Indeed,
tumble dryer use is more common in European coun-
tries with colder climates and rarer when the climate is
warm [8]. Ironing is projected to consume an average of
1.6kWh per hour [8], which equates to 22–62Wh for a
piece of fabric measuring 40 × 60cm [75]. However, pol-
yester garments do not require ironing as frequently as
other fabrics.
e environmental impact of the use phase in terms of
resource depletion has been proposed to depend on the
following hierarchy of user choices: (1) air vs tumble dry-
ing; (2) temperature of washing; and (3) equipment effi-
ciency [76]. ese authors argue that consumers with A
rated machines may wash clothes more frequently and
at warmer temperatures in the mistaken belief that their
high-efficiency equipment would compensate for these
choices, which in sustainability science is known as the
rebound effect [77]. Appropriate communication and
consumer education on sustainable choices is therefore
essential to minimize energy consumption during this
phase, also reducing CO2 emissions when energy is pro-
vided by fossil fuels.
Environmental impacts related todetergents
e overall environmental impact of laundry depends on
the type and amount of detergent used, both in terms of
resources consumed during production and the pollu-
tion of water and land during the disposal of wastewater.
Among four forms of detergent (liquid, powder, capsules
and tablets), the production of tablets was shown to gen-
erate the highest greenhouse gas emissions [78]. Simi-
larly, the components of the detergent (e.g., surfactants)
play an important role because some may be derived
from petrochemical sources and others may be biobased
alternatives from plants [79].
Once a laundry cycle is finished, detergents remaining
in the wastewater are either discharged directly into the
environment or partially removed in a treatment plant
(to mandated levels) depending on the region. However,
given the large volume of laundry wastewater that must
be treated, significant amounts of detergent still end up
in the environment even after processing, putting aquatic
and terrestrial ecosystems at risk [64]. Surfactants and
their byproducts reduce water quality and oxygenation,
which can severely damage aquatic animals and plants.
Furthermore, some detergent components appear to be
endocrine disruptors, affecting the reproductive system
of fish [80]. Detergents containing phosphates cause
freshwater eutrophication, and such products have been
banned in some countries [81]. Biobased detergents may
be less toxic than their synthetic counterparts [79]. How-
ever, further research is needed to determine which types
of detergent are more sustainable, taking into account the
production stage, the environmental effects of released
wastewater, and also the effect of different detergent
packaging materials. Sustainable detergents should be
effective and affordable to compete with their non-sus-
tainable counterparts.
Release ofmicrobers
Garments are exposed to various mechanical forces dur-
ing their use phase. For example, rubbing causes the ends
of some fibers to be drawn from the body of the fabric
onto the surface, where they appear as fuzz [82]. All tex-
tiles produce fuzz to some extent, but the amount pro-
duced and the strength of the protruding fibers depend
on the properties of the textile, such as fiber material,
yarn characteristics, fabric construction and age. If fur-
ther mechanical or chemical stress is applied into the
textile, the protruding fibers might break, leading to the
release of microfibers into the environment [83]. Another
hypothesis is that the fibers protruding from the sur-
face are simply pulled or loosened from the yarn, shed-
ding without breaking [84]. Regardless of the mechanism
(Fig.4), fabrics that generate more fuzz (more loose ends
per unit area) shed more microfibers [85].
Microfibers can be released into the air when garments
are worn, and also into the water during washing and dry-
ing, in the latter case often accumulating as lint. Approxi-
mately equal quantities of microfibers are released during
garment wearing and during washing [32]. However,
research on the source of microfibers released into the
environment has typically focused on detachment dur-
ing laundry cycles, including the effects of temperature,
detergent and the type of washing machine.
Many different factors contribute to fuzz formation
and fiber release, so we will assign them to two groups:
textile parameters and external parameters (Table1). In
this article, the latter refer solely to the effects of laun-
dry, because the release of microfibers into the air during
wearing has not been studied in detail.
It is difficult to reach a consensus on the quantity of
microfibers shed by different garments during laun-
dry because multiple textile and external parameters
act in concert, and there is no standardized method
to test, measure or analyze microfiber release, lead-
ing to diverse results. For example, one study reported
the shedding of 124–308mg microfibers per kg poly-
ester fabric during a laundry cycle, which corresponds
to 640,000–1,500,000 individual fibers [84], whereas
another reported the shedding of 0.27–0.46 mg/kg,
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
which corresponds to ~ 80,000 individual fibers [86].
The first report quantifying the release of microfibers
in washing machines estimated 1900 microfibers per
wash per synthetic garment [87].
Parameters aecting microber release
Textile parameters Several recent studies have consid-
ered the influence of textile parameters on microfiber
release [32, 8386, 8892]. e testing of polyester gar-
ments with different yarn characteristics and fabric con-
structions revealed that yarns with a higher twist released
fewer microfibers than those with lower or no twist,
regardless of whether the fabric was knitted or woven [84,
88]. is suggests that tighter yarns make it more difficult
for individual fibers to slip or protrude from the fabric.
Furthermore, fiber length can influence how much fuzz
is produced in the first place. Fabrics with yarns made of
staple fibers shed more microfibers than those made of
continuous filaments, because in the latter fewer loose
ends protrude from the surface [85]. e cutting/sewing
method used during textile production also affects micro-
fiber release: scissor-cut textiles shed > 30 times more
microfibers than laser-cut textiles, because the latter ther-
Fig. 4 Schematic representation of the proposed source of microfibers. Adapted from [83]
Table 1 Parameters aecting microber (MF) release fromclothes duringthelaundry cycle
Textile parameters Fiber type Hydrophilic fibers seem to release more MF than hydrophobic ones
Tensile strength might also affect MF breakage [32, 83, 94]
Yarn characteristics Yarns with a higher twist and longer filaments seems to shred fewer MF [84, 85, 88]
Fabric structure Thermally cut fabrics shred fewer MF than mechanically cut fabrics
Influence of knitted or woven construction is unclear [84, 88, 92]
Age of fabric Influence is unclear because garments did not undergo realistic aging [8386, 8991]
External parameters Type of washing machine Vertical axis seems to contribute to higher MF release, although it may be related to
the volume of water used [65, 91]
Water volume Higher water‑to‑garment ratio seems to increase MF release [32, 84, 90]
Speed No apparent effect on MF release [90]
Total duration No apparent effect on MF release [89]
Temperature No apparent effect on MF release [83, 86, 8890]
Drying MF release by tumbler dryer seems to be higher than during washing.
Difference in MF release between tumbler drying and air drying is unclear [83]
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
mally seals the edges of the fabric and thus reduces the
likelihood of protruding fibers [92].
Polyester is often blended with cotton in the textiles
industry and two studies have considered polyester and
cotton garments with the same yarn and fabric construc-
tion, both finding that cotton released more microfibers
than polyester [83, 84]. is was attributed to polyester
having a greater resistance to breaking [83] and to the
cellulose fibers of cotton being less hydrophobic [32]. e
latter would cause cotton fibers to swell more in water,
not only exposing them to breakage but also generating
more space for microfiber movement. Another study
found that polyester fabrics released more microfibers
than cotton, but did not account for different yarn char-
acteristics [86].
Finally, the age of the garment has also been evaluated
as a factor influencing the release of microfibers dur-
ing laundry. e quantity of microfibers released during
laundry decreases after the first wash until it reaches a
plateau [8386, 90]. For example, in a study in which pol-
yester garments were evaluated over 10 washing cycles,
the first cycle yielded 125mg/kg of microfibers but this
eventually declined to a constant value of ~ 20 mg/kg
[84]. A similar constant value of ~ 25mg/kg was reported
in another study [89]. However, these sequential wash
cycles did not accurately represent the aging of garments
because there was no interstitial use, and therefore little
opportunity to generate fuzz. Accordingly, the mechani-
cal aging of polyester garments for 24 h between wash
cycles resulted in a 25% increase in microfiber release
[91]. Even so, it is not clear whether mechanical aging is
an accurate simulation of natural aging, and further test-
ing is required under more realistic aging conditions to
determine how microfiber release varies during the life of
a garment.
External parameters e effect of different external
parameters on the release of polyester microfibers has
been tested in both laboratory simulated washers [83, 85,
89, 90] and in real commercial household machines [32,
83, 86, 90, 91]. Home laundering experiments are often
used to quantify microfiber release because they offer a
realistic scenario, but there is a good correlation between
the two kinds of experiments suggesting laboratory mod-
els are also representative [83, 90]. e advantage of lab-
oratory studies is that external parameters are easier to
control and the washers are simpler to operate and allow
the better recovery of samples for analysis [83]. Labora-
tory studies also address the need for standardization [85].
Home laundry experiments have considered the impact
of different types of machines. For example, one study
compared microfiber release in vertical-axis machines
with a central agitator and horizontal-axis machines
[91]. Settings for wash volume, temperature and wash
cycle duration were similar in both machines. Speed was
only stated for the vertical-axis washer with the central
agitator, which shed approximately seven times as many
microfibers as the horizontal-axis machine. e authors
proposed that the central agitator may have caused more
intense movement in the water compared to the horizon-
tal drum, causing more damage to the garments.
Based on the hypothesis that mechanical stress from
the laundering processes is responsible for the release of
microfibers, polyester garments were tested in washing
cycles of 1, 2, 4 and 8h, to confirm that longer washes
lead to more shedding [89]. However, the authors found
that a similar amount of microfibers was released regard-
less of the washing time, and thus the total amount of agi-
tation. Similarly, no significant difference was observed
between wash cycles lasting 15 and 60 min [90]. is
suggests most microfibers are released within the first
15min of the wash cycle, which would support the idea
that the formation of fuzz during normal wear is a funda-
mental step required for microfiber release, and that only
such loose and protruding fibers would be susceptible to
shedding. e main external parameter that affects the
detachment of fuzz appeared to be the water volume to
garment ratio [90]. e authors conducted several exper-
iments in which the same amount of polyester clothing
was washed at the same temperature for the same dura-
tion, but in different volumes of water and at different
speeds. Larger quantities of microfibers were released
in wash cycles that used more water, regardless of the
speed/agitation. Likewise, the microfiber release rate of
124–308g/kg clothing [84] increased to 128–1054mg/kg
clothing when the experiment was repeated at a higher
water-to-fabric ratio [32]. ese results suggest that a
higher overall hydrodynamic pressure on the textile may
enhance the mobility of microfibers that form part of the
fuzz. is may also explain why more microfiber shred-
ding was detected in a vertical-axis washing machine
[91], which uses more water than a horizontal-axis device
[65]. Finally, several studies have tested the effect of tem-
perature on the release of microfibers from polyester
garments, but no significant differences were observed
within the temperature range 15–80°C [83, 86, 8890].
Although the washing cycle generates significant quan-
tities of microfibers, the use of a tumble dryer produces
even more [83]. Air-drying is recommended to reduce
energy consumption, but there is evidence that even air
drying causes the release of microfibers [93].
Fate ofmicrobers released duringtheuse phase
Microfibers released into the air and water bodies have
spread everywhere on the planet, from mountains [95]
to rivers [96] in Europe [97], America [98] Asia [99] and
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Page 11 of 25
Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
the Artic [100]. Given their ubiquitous presence in the
environment, microfibers have also entered the food
chain and have been detected in many organisms [101]
including fruit and vegetable crops [102]. Until standards
are adopted, the risk of false characterization or inaccu-
rate quantification must be considered when interpreting
scientific studies because the prevalence of microfib-
ers can be overestimated or underestimated depending
on the detection method [103105]. Furthermore, most
of the studies discussed below are based on the analysis
of individual samples, and these should be extrapolated
with caution because longitudinal studies have clearly
revealed that microfiber concentrations vary over time
and space [106]. Microfibers in the environment should
therefore be monitored regularly to gain a clearer picture
of the extent of the problem over different spatial and
temporal scales [107], although this should not delay the
introduction of preventative and remedial solutions.
Air pollution When microfibers are released into the
air, they may remain airborne either indoors or outdoors.
e testing of different samples for a period of one year
revealed that microfiber concentrations are significantly
higher indoors (1–60MF/m3) than outdoors (0.3–1.5MF/
m3) due to dispersion and dilution [93]. ese figures
are commensurate with the extent of microfiber shed-
ding from clothes [32] and the fact that we spend most
of our time indoors, a situation currently exacerbated by
COVID-19. Other household textiles, such as curtains
and furniture coverings, also contribute to the production
of airborne fibers.
Depending on their size, indoor airborne microfibers
may eventually fall to the floor or other surfaces as dust
[93, 108]. Airborne microfibers can also fall onto food,
which could result in the ingestion of 13,731–68,415
fibers per person per year assuming a cooking and con-
sumption time of 40min [109].
Outdoor microfibers can be carried by the wind and
can fall as dust in the city [110] or in remote areas, as
reported for lakes in Mongolia [111] and the Pyrenees
[95]. A recent study reported the presence of polyester
microfibers on Mount Everest, probably from clothing
and equipment based on the detection of greater concen-
trations of microfibers near major camping sites [112].
Furthermore, precipitation can trap airborne microfibers
and deposit them on the ground [95, 113].
Most airborne microfibers both indoors and outdoors
were found to be 50–250µm in length [93], although the
method used in this study did not detect smaller fibers,
which may also be abundant. Smaller microfibers are
more likely to be inhaled, although fibers up to 250µm
in length were also detected in human pulmonary tissues
Water pollution Microfibers have been found in rivers,
canals, lakes, seas and oceans [9699, 115, 116]. ey have
also been detected in Artic ice [117] and most recently in
an Artic freshwater lake [100]. Furthermore, microfibers
have been isolated from tap water in a study that tested
more than 150 samples from all over the world, with an
average concentration of 4.34particles/L and a maximum
of 54particles/L [118].
Most common textile fibers are denser than seawater:
for example, polyester has a density of 1.39g/cm3 [119].
Consequently, microfibers and other microplastics even-
tually sink (vertical deposition) and have therefore been
detected in sediments [115] and in the deep sea [120].
Seafloor currents segregate microfibers (horizontal dis-
tribution) and carry them to localized spots of high
biodiversity [121]. As they settle (either vertically or hori-
zontally), particles and fibers may be ingested by animals,
including those used by humans as food. For example,
microfibers have been found in mussels from the Belgian
and Dutch coasts [115, 122]. e reported concentra-
tion of microfibers in soft tissues varies, reflecting differ-
ent methods of extraction and analysis. Standardization
is required to ensure that studies on microfibers are
Microfibers have also been detected in a wide range of
fish, including 20.5% of Icelandic cod [123], 17.5% of red
mullet from the Mediterranean and hake from the Atlan-
tic coast in Spain [124] and ~ 15% of sardine [125]. e
same pollutants have also been found in fish-eating birds,
such as Mediterranean seagulls [126]. e trophic trans-
fer of microplastics has also been reported from mussels
to crabs [127], and from fish to seals [128]. Microfib-
ers were also found in all 102 turtles sampled from the
Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean
[129]. e presence of microfibers in marine organisms
can pose several problems both individually and for the
ecosystem [101, 130, 131]. For example, synthetic fibers
ingested by the planktonic crustacean Daphnia magna
caused an increase in mortality [132]. e fibers were
also genotoxic and affected swimming and reproductive
behavior [133135]. is is concerning because organ-
isms at low trophic levels are critical in food chains [136,
Initial research suggested that microfiber pollution
in water was mainly caused by laundry effluent, either
direct discharges or from wastewater treatment plants
(WWTPs) [87, 138]. Laundry effluent was proposed to
account for 35% of all global microplastic contamination
in the oceans [139]. However, the study did not involve
field work and did not account for the deposition of air-
borne microfibers, thus probably underestimating the
problem [32]. Even so, wastewater effluent is still an
important source of microfibers in the environment. e
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
analysis of microfibers and other microplastics in seven
Dutch WWTPs during 2012 and 2013 revealed that
microfibers were the most abundant microplastic in the
influent wastewater, confirming the prominent role of
laundry [115]. e mean retention efficiency was 72%,
which represents the difference in microfiber concentra-
tion between the influent and effluent, and estimates the
quantity of microfibers retained in the sewage sludge.
is suggests that ~ 52 particles per liter are discharged
into nearby rivers through the effluent. However, there
was significant variation in performance between the
WWTPs, probably reflecting differences in treatment
methods. A similar study of three Swedish WWTPs using
mechanical, chemical and biological treatments revealed
a retention efficiency of 99.7% for synthetic microfibers
longer than 300µm, but this fell to 80% for microfibers in
the size range 20–300µm [94].
Differences in retention efficiency between larger and
smaller microfibers are relevant because a large propor-
tion of the microfibers released during laundry are less
than 300µm in length [83, 84]. Consequently, 93.3% of
the microplastic particles in WWTP effluent were found
to be smaller than 300μm [140]. e analysis of micro-
fibers from WWTP effluent by Raman microspectros-
copy revealed that those in the size range 1–10μm were
the most abundant [141]. Technological innovations to
increase the retention of smaller microfibers would be
desirable [142, 143]. Nevertheless, the presence of even
small quantities of microfibers in WWTP effluent means
a significant amount is discharged into rivers, due to the
large volumes of effluent discharged every day [142].
Assuming a retention efficiency of 98.4%, a WWTP
receiving influent from a population of 100,000 would
discharge ~ 1 kg of microfibers into the environment
every day [91].
Land pollution Microfibers that are successfully
removed from wastewater are retained in the sewage
sludge. In the Netherlands, sewage sludge is incinerated
for energy recovery [115], but in many other countries it
is used as a fertilizer because it provides a valuable source
of nutrients [144]. is means that 63,000–430,000 tons
of microplastics are added to European farmlands every
year via sludge applications [144], and microfibers have
been detected in farmlands all over the world [145, 146].
Microplastics have even been found in agricultural soils in
Germany that have never received applications of sludge,
suggesting that significant contamination can be achieved
by the use of polluted irrigation water or the natural depo-
sition of airborne microplastic particles [147]. If greywa-
ter and blackwater could be treated separately, sewage
sludge would no longer contain significant quantities of
microfibers and could safely be used in agriculture. Fur-
thermore, greywater treatment could be improved to
retain a higher proportion of microfibers. However, this
would require significant investment in infrastructure to
separate greywater and blackwater at source, and can be
regarded as a long-term goal [68].
In addition to the impact on agriculture, the pollution
of land with microfibers and other microplastics can
affect soil properties as well as the organisms that live
in the soil [148152]. e addition of polyester fibers
and other microplastics to soil up to a concentration 2%
for 5weeks or 0.2% for 3.5months revealed that differ-
ent microplastics produced different responses in terms
of soil properties and soil-dwelling organisms [153, 154].
Particles similar in shape to natural soil particles had less
impact in both studies, whereas polyester fibers triggered
the strongest effects on soil structure, water dynamics
and the activity of soil microbes. e effect of polyester
fibers was also investigated in controlled experiments in
soil-filled pots as well as a one-year field trial, yielding
different results for each scenario and thus revealing the
complexity of natural ecosystems [155]. Terrestrial snails
ingested less food following the consumption of PET fib-
ers, which was associated with damage to the gastroin-
testinal walls and lower antioxidant activity [156]. Other
microplastics have been shown to pass through the food
chain from earthworm casts to chickens, which are in
turn consumed by humans [157].
Polyester microfibers also influence plant physiol-
ogy, triggering the development of longer but thinner
spring onion roots with enhanced colonization by soil
microbes, and modulating the nitrogen/carbon ratio
of the aboveground organs [154]. Similarly, mixing soil
with microfibers recovered from a household wash-
ing machine inhibited the germination and growth of
ryegrass plants [158] suggesting that microfibers in suf-
ficient concentrations could threaten food security and
biodiversity [150]. Seeds that germinate in contaminated
soil can absorb smaller microplastic particles. In fruit and
vegetable crops, microfibers 1.51–2.52 µm in diameter
were detected in the edible tissues, with median values
of 223,000 particles per fruit sample and 97,800 particles
per vegetable, with the highest microfiber burden found
in apple and carrot, respectively [102].
Eects onhuman health
Humans are exposed to microfibers by contact, inhala-
tion and the consumption of contaminated food and
drinks. As stated above, there is a clear correlation
between microfiber exposure and the health of textile
workers, but it is unclear if the remaining population is
affected by the generally much lower level of exposure.
Multiple tests have been carried out invitro and exvivo,
as well as in vivo (mostly using mammal models), to
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
measure the uptake of microfibers and determine any
toxic effects. Several publications have reviewed the out-
comes of these experiments, and more detailed informa-
tion can be found there [7, 35, 159162]. e results of
these studies are summarized in Fig.5.
Exposure levels are difficult to measure precisely. e
quantity of microfibers ingested depends on the diet and
the concentration of microfibers on the surface or within
the matrix of ingested food. An intake of 39,000–52,000
microplastic particles per person per year from food
and drinks has been estimated in a typical US Ameri-
can diet [163]. As stated above, 13,700–68,400 particles
per person per year may also be ingested as microfiber
dust settling on food [109]. Based on these numbers, the
microfiber intake via the diet is 52,700–73,600 particles
per person per year. e number of particles inhaled per
year has been estimated in several studies, including rela-
tive low ranges of 9500–47,000 particles per person per
year [35] but also much higher values of 35,000–69,000
particles per person per year [163]. e gulf between
these estimates reflects the different samples and meth-
ods used in the corresponding studies, clearly highlight-
ing the need for standardized methods for the evaluation
of risk. Further research is also needed to determine the
cellular mechanisms of microfiber uptake and toxicity,
as well as the impact of different factors such as poly-
mer type, microfiber size and shape, and the presence of
End‑of‑life phase
Depending on how an end-of-life garment is discarded
(Fig. 6), the waste material can be eliminated, trans-
formed, or it can accumulate. Most discarded garments
are mixed with other household waste, and only a small
fraction is properly collected and taken to sorting facili-
ties [54]. ere, end-of-life garments are evaluated and
sorted depending on reusability and recyclability, and the
remainder (as well as garments mixed with household
waste) are incinerated or sent to landfill (depending on
the legislation), which results in a great loss of resources
and potential environmental damage. e proportion of
clothing properly collected and sorted was 15–20% in
2017 [9]. However, this figure varies by country. In the
Netherlands, of the 305,100 tons of textiles discarded by
the consumer in 2018, 44.6% was collected separately in
thrift stores or clothing containers and the rest ended
up with residual waste, which is incinerated for energy
recovery. After sorting, 53% of the correctly discarded
Fig. 5 Summary of the effects of microfibers (MFs) on human health
Fig. 6 Disposal routes for end‑of‑life textiles
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
clothing was sold for reuse (mostly outside the Neth-
erlands), 33% was recycled, and 14% was incinerated
[164]. erefore, at least two-thirds of discarded cloth-
ing is incinerated, mostly due to improper disposal. is
reflects both the lack of infrastructure and the lack of
knowledge on the correct processes to discard end-of-
life textiles. In order to improve recollection rates across
Europe, the EU has mandated that all Member States
should ensure the separate recollection of textiles in
dedicated receptacles by 2025, to enable the better man-
agement of discarded clothing [2]. Governments should
ensure the proper use of such containers through cam-
paigns and educational programs.
e disposal of clothing in landfills and incineration
plants generates pollution, but the more important issue
in terms of environmental impact is value loss, because
the value of the discarded clothing is replaced by manu-
facturing new clothes, with a much higher environmental
burden than the disposal process alone. If the discarded
clothing could be reused or recycled, the production of
new garments would be unnecessary because the value of
the original materials would be retained. Increasing the
reuse and recycling rates for unwanted clothes is there-
fore a priority for improved sustainability at the end-of-
life phase.
Textile waste discarded by the consumer is known as
post-consumer waste, but garments are also discarded
directly by the retail industry when unsold, returned or
defective [30]. is is known as pre-consumer waste, and
may account for about one-third of the clothes produced
in total [165], although these numbers have not been ver-
ified [30]. ere is also the production waste mentioned
above—the cut-out fabric remnants and yarn residues.
Many companies incinerate their unsold garments and
cut-offs. For example, the British brand Burberry incin-
erated $37 million of unsold inventory in 2017 [166]. In
order to operate within the European Circularity Plan,
some countries such as Spain are starting to draw up leg-
islation that forbids companies from incinerating their
pre-consumer waste [167]. France has already approved
such legislation, which will come into force from 31
December 2021 [168].
When a garment discarded by a consumer is still wear-
able or can be made wearable with minor repairs, the
practical life of the garment can be extended by transfer-
ring it to a new owner via second-hand stores (physical
or online) or charities. e reuse of clothes reduces the
consumption of resources for the manufacture of new
garments as well as avoiding waste. A review of 41 pub-
lications on this issue concluded that reuse is the most
environmentally beneficial way of disposing of a garment,
compared to recycling, incineration and landfilling [61].
However, it is important to ensure that the reuse phase
is sufficiently prolonged, to ensure that any impacts from
the increased reuse of textiles (such as emissions from
the vehicles used for collection and distribution) do not
exceed those avoided by producing a lower volume of
new textile products [61].
Polyester garments accumulate in landfills because con-
ventional PET is not biodegradable, resulting in a long
post-consumer life even if the use phase is brief. Expo-
sure to the effects of weather over time eventually leads
to the fragmentation of fabrics, potentially releasing
any harmful additives used during production as well as
microfibers. ese pollute the land, water and air as dis-
cussed above [169]. Landfill was traditionally the major
disposal route for textiles, but land scarcity and the threat
to human health and the environment has encouraged
the selection of other disposal routes. e EU has man-
dated that a maximum 10% of municipal waste can be
consigned to landfill by 2035 [2]. e Netherlands is one
of a small number of countries that has already stopped
disposing of waste in landfills, and all waste is incinerated
or recycled instead.
Incineration is the burning (thermal degradation) of
waste, which can be carried out under controlled or
uncontrolled conditions, in the presence (combustion)
or absence (pyrolysis) of oxygen, and with or without
energy recovery [169, 170]. Incinerated waste is not
eliminated, but transformed into toxic gases and hazard-
ous residual ash which require further disposal methods.
e incineration of PET textiles under different condi-
tions mainly produces CO2, CO (probably due to the high
oxygen content in the polymer) and benzene, as well as
large amounts of TPA, benzoic acid, acetaldehyde, and
aliphatic C1–C4 hydrocarbons, and smaller (but still sig-
nificant) quantities of dioxins and furans [170]. All these
compounds are environmental hazards and a threat to
human health [171].
Under controlled conditions, some of the toxic emis-
sions can be partly removed, such as the capture of diox-
ins in active coal filters. A study of 90 incinerator plants
in France, with different technologies for air pollution
control, revealed there was no specific technique for the
abatement of CO or volatile organic compounds such as
benzene, resulting in the emission of 43.9g of CO and
4.68g of volatiles per ton of incinerated municipal solid
waste, 13% of which represents discarded textiles [172].
Nevertheless, incineration is still preferable to landfill-
ing because it does not take up as much space and the
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
impact on air pollution can be partly or fully compen-
sated by recovering energy as heat or electricity, which
otherwise would have been produced from fossil fuels
[173]. For example, 100% polyester garments can gen-
erate 21.2MJ/kg of recovered energy [174]. Incinerator
plants with energy recovery therefore cover 84–90% of
their own electricity requirements [172]. However, not
every incinerator plant recovers energy from waste [172]
and the incinerator infrastructure should be modernized
to reduce its environmental impact.
e recycling of synthetic textiles is a broad concept, but
all recycling involves a degree of deconstruction. is
results in a secondary source of material to manufacture
a similar or dissimilar product, thus avoiding the need
for virgin raw material. Textile recycling ranges from
the recovery of fabric or fibers to the degradation of the
material to recover polymers or even monomers, avoid-
ing the need for incineration or landfilling [175]. Despite
these benefits, recycled material remains unpopular and
virgin material is usually preferred. e market share for
recycled polyester was only ~ 13% in 2018 [23]. Part of
the reason is the lack of infrastructure and efficient recy-
cling technology in many regions [9]. One challenging
step is the sorting of the recollected material. Recollected
clothes are a heterogeneous mixture of natural and syn-
thetic fabrics and also blends, differing in quality. Auto-
mated sorting has been achieved by analyzing clothes
using infrared sensors [176], but this technology is not
widely available and most discarded clothes are sorted by
hand [30]. Recycling usually targets monomaterial fab-
rics, which are easier to process than blends, whereas the
latter are usually discarded.
Another factor that hinders recycling is the general
lack of information about the manufacturing history
of discarded garments, including the content of spe-
cific additives and dyes. e risk of residual toxic addi-
tives in recycled materials limits market growth [61].
e risk depends on the nature of the recycling process,
which can include mechanical, thermal, chemical and
potentially enzymatic methods, as described below. e
ability to recycle fabric, fibers, polymers and monomers
depends on which method or combination of methods is
Mechanical recycling allows for fabric and fiber recy-
cling. At a global level, this is the most common recy-
cling process because it does not require expensive
equipment or reagents [169]. Fibers can be recovered
by shredding and pulling, and their reusability then
depends on length and quality. Longer fibers can be
used along with virgin material to make carpets and
rugs, whereas shorter fibers are usually downcycled
into insulating or filling materials. Clothing discarded
after extensive use and many wash cycles may pre-
dominantly contain short fibers of reduced quality.
Mechanically recovered fibers are therefore mainly
used for downcycling. Whatever the final use, addi-
tives may be carried over to the new product [30].
ermal recycling is often used for polyester and
other thermoplastics [30]. e garments are cut and
granulated into PET pellets by applying heat (above
260°C) and mechanical agitation. e polymer pel-
lets can then be used for spinning and extrusion
like virgin pellets, and may be used to make new
garments or alternative products [61]. Several com-
panies offer thermal recycling equipment, and this
recycling method is particularly popular in Europe.
However, the shortening of the polymer chains dur-
ing thermal recycling leads to a loss of quality [177].
Other disadvantages of thermal recycling are the
high energy consumption [176] and the carryover of
additives to the new product [9].
Chemical recycling is used to recover oligomers or
monomers by the depolymerization of PET. e
reaction that converts ethylene glycol and TPA into
PET is in equilibrium and can therefore be reversed
(Fig. 2). is monomer recovery is achieved by
hydrolysis [178]. Other methods for oligomer recov-
ery include methanolysis [179] and glycolysis [180].
In each case, the textile is first cut into pieces and
then submerged in a chemical solution for high-
temperature depolymerization with specific catalysts
[181]. Additives and dyes dissolved in the solution
must be removed and disposed of properly, and then
the monomers or oligomers can be purified and repo-
lymerized, yielding PET pellets and fibers of the same
quality as virgin polyester. Recent work to improve
the process has focused on the feasibility of chemi-
cal recycling at lower temperatures to reduce energy
consumption [176]. For example, the Dutch company
Ioniqa has developed a glycolysis process that works
at temperatures below 200°C and uses catalysts that
can be magnetically recovered and reused, which sig-
nificantly reduces the costs [182]. Similarly, the Swiss
company Gr3n has reduced the costs of hydrolysis by
developing a microwave-assisted process that takes
on 10min.
Enzymatic bio-recycling is an emerging technol-
ogy that uses enzymes to hydrolyze the ester bonds
in PET (Fig.2). Although such enzymes have been
studied for many years [183], the natural enzymes
are inefficient and protein engineering was required
to achieve high monomer yields, as reported by the
French company Carbios [184]. Although enzy-
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
matic bio-recycling takes a long time per cycle (cur-
rently ~ 10 h), its advantages include the low reac-
tion temperature (below 100°C), the potential reuse
of enzymes by immobilization, and the selectivity of
the enzyme, which allows the recycling of PET even
within blends. Much of the research in enzyme-
catalyzed PET depolymerization has focused on
PET from bottles or packaging rather than fibers,
the latter being more challenging due to the higher
content of hydrolysis-resistant crystalline regions
[185]. Mechanical, thermal or chemical pretreatment
methods may therefore be necessary for the complete
enzymatic depolymerization of PET textile waste
[177]. Such processes should be evaluated by LCA
to ensure that the environmental impact of pretreat-
ment does not offset the environmental benefits of
enzymatic recycling.
Deconstruction methods to recover polymers, oligom-
ers or monomers are recent innovations that have yet
to be applied to fabrics on a large scale. Most recycled
garments are therefore downcycled into products such
as insulating and filling materials, and only 1% of textile
waste is currently recycled into new clothing [9]. is
is not necessarily undesirable, because fabric and fiber
recycling still avoids the use of virgin PET to manufacture
insulating and filling materials [61]. Ultimately, a series
of changes is needed to increase recycling rates, includ-
ing (1) a more efficient collection strategy that promotes
compliance; (2) more efficient sorting; and (3) the intro-
duction of circular design principles (replace hazard-
ous chemicals, reduce product complexity, and improve
process transparency) to ensure that recovered materials
can be identified and handled in a safe and appropriate
Controlled biodegradation/biotransformation
Although PET fibers are not regarded as naturally bio-
degradable, the application of enzymatic cascades [186]
or microorganisms [187] has the potential to accomplish
this process. In a controlled bioreactor, the first step
would be similar to enzymatic bio-recycling, yielding
oligomers and the monomers TPA and ethylene glycol.
Subsequently, further decomposition could achieve bio-
degradation to final products such as CO2, methane and
water. Microorganisms in the bioreactor could directly
use the monomers or the CO2 as a source of carbon to
increase their biomass [188] or to produce value-added
compounds [189] For example, a strain of Pseudomonas
putida has been engineered to efficiently convert ethyl-
ene glycol into the biodegradable polymer polyhydroxy-
alkanoate [190]. Given the large quantities of textile
and plastic waste generated every year, the controlled
biodegradation or biotransformation of PET may be a
promising concept for the future.
Key points forenvironmental sustainability
In this article, we have presented a qualitative analysis
of the life cycle of polyester clothing, which currently
involves the unsustainable depletion of resources and
the generation of polluting emissions (among others
contributing to climate change). e pollution not only
damages the environment, but is also a threat to human
health. In order to make clothing more sustainable, we
recommend several actions that should be implemented
during the production (Table2), use (Table3) and end-
of-life (Table4) phases. is requires the involvement of
multiple stakeholders: governments and NGOs, indus-
try, researchers, and consumers. e new measures
should be encouraged through a mixture of legislation,
economic incentives, funding, education and commu-
nication, because single measures will not suffice. For
example, education alone may not promote universal
change among consumers, but it is important that the
public understands why specific measures are needed,
otherwise there will be a lack of cooperation [138]. ere
are many examples of appropriate and timely legislative
decisions that placed society on the path to sustainability,
such as the recovery of the ozone layer following the ban
on chlorofluorocarbons [191] and the more recent recov-
ery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems in
some regions following direct interventions [192]. In the
context of waste management, further examples include
European Directive 2000/76/CE, integrated into Euro-
pean Directive 2010/75/EU, which enforced the tech-
nological development of incineration plants (although
further progress is needed to modernize the incinera-
tor infrastructure). Furthermore, EU Directives 96/60/
EC and 2010/30/EU contributed to sustainable energy
by encouraging the manufacture of A rated washing
machines and other domestic appliances. New direc-
tives are now needed to wean society off the consump-
tion of energy from fossil fuels during every phase of the
textile value chain. is can be achieved by a mixture of
stricter CO2 taxes on companies, the discontinuation of
fossil fuel subsidies and incentives to encourage switch-
ing to renewable energy sources and energy-efficient
machinery. Other recommendations to increase the
environmental sustainability of textiles include the fit-
ting of in-drum devices or external filters to washing
machines to prevent microfiber shedding or to capture
the fibers that are released. Six such devices have recently
been tested, revealing that the commercial filter XFiltra
was able to retain 79% of microfibers in the greywater
whereas the in-drum Guppyfriend bag helped to reduce
microfiber shredding by 54%[193]. e combination of
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
Table 2 Key recommendations to improve the sustainability of polyester garments during the production phase
ofthevalue chain. GHG = greenhouse gas
Issue Goal Measure Action
Inputs Phase out fossil fuels as source of energy Strict taxes on GHG emissions
Discontinue buying/selling quotas on GHG emissions
Discontinue subsidies for use of fossil fuels
Incentivize use of renewable energy
Phase out fossil fuels as source of materials Prioritize recycled PET pellets for production of new polyester fibers
Further investigate the environmental impacts, safety and economic
feasibility of:
Renewable monomers ethylene glycol and TPA for the production of PET
Renewable polyesters such as polylactic acid
Renewable dyes and other chemicals
Optimize and upscale the use of renewable feedstock
Consider materials other than polyesters that may be more sustainable
Reduce water consumption Prioritize dyeing/printing methods that require less water
Encourage water recycling
Outputs Reduce water pollution Impose wastewater treatment
Reduce microfiber release Prioritize compact yarn structures (high twist, longer filaments)
Prioritize thermal cutting methods
Reduce waste Improve management of chemical residues
Smart design through digital tools to reduce cut‑out pieces
Recycle cut‑outs back into the supply chain
Design Design for durability and recyclability Work with high‑quality materials for durable clothing
Discontinue use of hazardous chemicals and dyes to increase recyclability
Avoid blends when possible to increase recyclability
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
both devices would have a significant impact on the vol-
ume of microfibers released during the laundry cycle.
The problem
Clothing is one of the primary needs of humans. e
demand is met by the global production of thousands
of tons of textile fibers, fabrics and garments every
day. However, the excessive consumption of textiles is
detrimental to health and the environment. For exam-
ple, the full life cycle of 1kg of conventional polyester
fabric has been estimated to release more than 30 kg
of CO2 equivalents to the atmosphere, contributing to
the greenhouse effect and global warming [8]. Most of
the environmental burden of the textiles value chain is
generated during the production phase, although con-
sumer behavior in terms of laundry routines, purchas-
ing choices and disposal methods also plays a key role
e production phase is characterized by its depend-
ency on fossil resources as a source of materials and
energy, and its use of hazardous chemicals and dyes
(many of which are also derived from oil). Additionally,
approximately 20% of global water pollution is attrib-
uted to the dyeing and finishing of textile products. e
dyeing and finishing stage is therefore particularly det-
rimental for the environment, followed by yarn and
fiber manufacture. e design of the garment (includ-
ing the thickness and twist of the yarn, the materials
and chemicals required during manufacturing, and the
corresponding methods) determines factors such as lon-
gevity, recyclability, and (in part) the propensity to shed
microfibers. Manufacturing, wearing and washing poly-
ester apparel is a significant source of the microfibers that
now permeate the environment, and further research
is needed to understand the factors that promote such
microfiber release. As for the end-of-life phase, low rates
of recovery, poor sorting of textile waste, and the lack of
transparency during manufacturing makes it difficult to
identify clothing suitable for recycling. Consequently,
most discarded clothing is incinerated or sent to landfill,
creating pollution and value loss.
The solutions
A series of changes is needed to reduce the environmen-
tal impact of textiles. e main priority is the phasing out
of fossil fuels at every stage of the value chain. In terms of
energy consumption, this means switching to renewable
sources as soon as possible. In terms of materials, poly-
mers, hazardous chemicals and dyes must be replaced
with recycled, biobased or CO2-based safe alternatives.
PET fibers could also be replaced with more sustainable
materials where possible. Furthermore, manufacturing
methods that require less water and fewer chemicals
should be encouraged through a smart design to improve
Legislation Economic incentive or funding Education or communication
Table 2 (continued)
Issue Goal Measure Action
Transport Supply chain optimization Shorten the supply chain
Implement traceability through digitalization
Reduce oil, chemical and polymer pellet spills
Retail Make the purchase of sustainable clothes easier Implement strict eco‑labeling
Include reuse and recycled garments in regular stores
Place retail stores at accessible locations
New business models System based on pre‑orders
Fashion as a service (subscription or pay‑per‑use)
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
circularity. is should be paired with mandated trans-
parency in the textile manufacturing industry to ensure
that all textile products are labeled to identify the fibers
and additives used during production. While research-
ers focus on improvements to avoid microfiber shed-
ding from clothes and WWTPs improve the efficiency of
microfiber recovery, simple methods should be encour-
aged such as installing filters in washing machines and
driers. e microfibers recovered from such filters could
be recycled along with discarded textiles, although such
a process would need to be scaled up and integrated
with the broader textile recycling infrastructure. In the
last stage of the value chain, recollection rates could
be improved by educating the public and by making
collection containers more accessible, both of which
would encourage compliance.
The actors
As shown in Tables2, 3, 4, new legislation, economic
incentives, funding and education are needed to
encourage sustainability. Governments and industry
both have a major role to play. Governments must be
the drivers of change to ensure that companies comply
with national and international laws. ey should pro-
vide standards and facilitate access to different tools
and resources for more sustainable production and
alternatives that promote circularity. Industry must
adapt to these changes, and rethink and redirect their
Table 3 Key recommendations toimprove thesustainability of polyester garments during the use phase ofthe value
Legislation Economic incentive or funding Education or communication
Issue Goal Measure Action
Resources Phase out fossil fuels as source of energy Incentivize use of renewable energy in the household
Reduce energy consumption Improve machine efficiency
Wash at lower temperatures
Avoid tumble drying when possible
Reduce freshwater consumption Switch to horizontal‑axis washing machines
Improve and encourage greywater recycling systems within
households or laundry stores
Detergents Produce more sustainable detergents Determine which type of detergent is more sustainable consid‑
Effects on the environment upon release
Effects on microfiber release
Microfibers Prevention of microfiber release from clothing Wash at full load to avoid high water volume to garment ratios
Standardization of quantifying methods to facilitate more
informative research
Retroactive solutions for microfiber release from clothing Use filters to capture microfibers in washing machines
Develop air filtration systems to remove airborne microfibers
Bioremediation: can enzymes or whole microorganisms be
added to agricultural soils to degrade PET without disturbing
soil properties or causing other side effects?
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
strategies by adopting new business models that favor
slow and sustainable rather than fast and wasteful fash-
ion. ese strategies should be based on state-of-the-art
solutions developed by research scientists (academic
and industrial) and funding should be made available
by government and industry to bring such solutions
to scale. Consumers can play their part by adopting
sustainable laundry practices and environmentally
conscious purchasing and disposal choices. Informed
purchasing can be achieved by implementing eco-label
standards and by promoting business models based
on second-hand and recycled clothing. However, con-
sumers should already be offered the most sustainable
options for new clothes in retail stores, which is the
responsibility of government and industry.
Table 4 Key recommendations to improve the sustainability of polyester garments during the end‑of‑life phase
ofthevalue chain. GHG=greenhouse gas
Legislation Economic incentive or funding Education or communication
Issue Goal Measure Action
Resources Phase out fossil fuels as source of energy Strict taxes on GHG emissions
Discontinue buying/selling quotas on GHG emissions
Discontinue subsidies for use of fossil fuels
Incentivize use of renewable energy
Pre‑disposal Reduce volume of discarded clothes Promote reuse and mending
Disposal Improve collection of textiles Provide information to the public on the correct processes for textile
disposal and recycling
Facilitate disposal by increasing the number of collection containers
Increase the number of retail stores with take‑back schemes
Improve sorting facilities Invest in new sorting technologies
Recycling Reduce material rejection Improve transparency concerning the additives used during manufac‑
Improve monomer recycling technologies Can chemical recycling be carried out at lower temperatures?
Can enzymatic recycling overcome high crystallinity in fibers in a sustain‑
able way?
Incineration Modernization of incineration plants Improve air pollution control systems
Implant energy recovery (both as heat and electricity) in every installa‑
Reduce volume of PET textile waste Research feasibility and optimize different routes
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Palacios‑Mateoetal. Environ Sci Eur (2021) 33:2
The essential
Slow fashion advocates for (1) production processes that
do not exploit natural or human resources to expedite
manufacturing; (2) conscious consumption that achieves
a longer product lifespan; and (3) the disposal of gar-
ments in a manner that closes the loop [194]. Coopera-
tion and commitment from all stakeholders throughout
the value chain is necessary to achieve this transition to
sustainability, because transparency and traceability are
required at all stages. Consumers must know where their
clothes come from and which additives were incorpo-
rated in the fabric, whether or not the production pro-
cess was ethical, whether the wastewater was treated
properly, and whether the manufacturers used renewable
energy and materials. LCAs, social LCAs (SLCAs) and
technology assessments can answer these questions by
identifying priority areas for intervention and measuring
the feasibility of all proposed solutions. In this article, we
discuss the outcome of previous LCAs covering polyes-
ter garments [8, 29] and textiles in general [13], but these
studies do not address the challenge of microfibers [34]
and do not address the social aspects of sustainability.
It is therefore necessary to prepare inclusive LCAs and
SLCAs covering all phases of the polyester value chain,
taking into account the different issues described herein,
as well as LCAs and SLCAs describing new processes
or business models. is comprehensive analysis will
provide the guidance needed to ensure meaningful and
effective change to improve the sustainability of textiles
on a global basis.
BTEX: Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene; GHG: Greenhouse gas; LCA:
Life cycle assessment; PET: Polyethylene terephthalate; SLCA: Social life cycle
assessment; TPA: Terephthalic acid; WWTP: Wastewater treatment plant.
Not applicable.
Authors’ contributions
Conceptualization CPM; methodology CPM; writing—original draft prepara‑
tion; writing—review and editing CPM, YVM; supervision GS. All authors read
and approved the final manuscript.
This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020
research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 887711.
Availability of data and materials
Not applicable.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
Not applicable.
Consent for publication
Figure 4 was adapted with permission from the publisher.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Received: 17 September 2020 Accepted: 8 December 2020
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... Microfibres are also expected to easily migrate from the soil due to their low density (Brahney et al. 2020), and be readily transported by ground water and by air, making it unsurprising that their presence has been detected even in very remote areas (Napper et al. 2020). Additionally, even when domestic effluent undergoes waste water treatment, filtration may not be effective at retaining all small fibres and particles, dependent on the type and complexity of the treatment plant (Palacios-Mateo et al. 2021;Ziajahromi et al. 2017). All of which makes it particularly important to quantify the scale of microfibre pollution from domestic laundry to the environment. ...
Full-text available
Domestic laundering of textiles is being increasingly recognised as a significant source of microfibre pollution. Reliable quantification of microfibre release is necessary to understanding the scale of this issue and to evaluate the efficacy of potential solutions. This study explores three major factors that influence the quantification of microfibres released from the domestic laundering of textiles: test methodologies, laundering variables, and fabric variables. A review of different test methods is presented, highlighting the variation in quantification created by using different methodologies. A reliable and reproducible method for quantifying microfibre release from domestic laundering is used to explore the impact of laundering and fabric variables experimentally. The reproducibility and reliability of the method used was validated through inter-laboratory trials and has informed the development of European and international testing standards. Our results show that increasing the wash liquor ratio and wash agitation results in a greater mass of microfibres released, but we found that fabric variables can have a greater influence on microfibre release than the laundering variables tested in this study. However, no single fabric variable appeared to have a dominant influence. Using the data obtained and assumptions for washing load size and frequency, results were scaled to reflect possible annual microfibre release from untreated domestic laundering in the UK. Depending on different laundering and fabric variables, these values range from 6490 tonnes to 87,165 tonnes of microfibre discharged in the UK each year.
... Textile printing and dyeing wastewater account for 51% of the total wastewater (Kasavan et al. 2021). Textile wastewater exhibits toxicity as well as endangers life and health (Palacios-Mateo et al. 2021). A considerable amount of printing and dyeing mud is primarily dumped into landfills (Ren et al. 2017), leading to major pollution of the soil ecosystem (Ning et al. 2014). ...
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Worldwide, 45 million tons of waste cotton textiles are produced annually, of which 75% is burned and buried, leading to serious environmental pollution. In this study, a method for directly preparing colored regenerated cellulose fibers (CRCFs) from dyed cotton textile waste (DCTW) was demonstrated. The tensile strength of CRCFs reached 226 MPa, which was equivalent to that of commercial viscose fibers. CRCFs exhibited excellent color fastness and hydrophilicity. In addition, CRCFs can be reprocessed into secondary CRCFs. The tensile strength of secondary CRCFs was 14.64% less than that of the primary CRCFs due to the reduction in the polymerization degree of secondary CRCFs; however, it also can be woven into fabrics. The exploration of the secondary utilization of CRCFs provides an experimental basis for prolonging the service life of DCTW. This approach of preparing CRCFs achieves closed-loop recycling of waste colored cellulose textiles and prevents environmental pollution caused by decoloring and dyeing.
... In order to achieve sustainability in the textile industry, it is important to produce the building blocks of PET (ethylene glycol (EG) and terephthalic acid (TPA)) from renewable or recycled sources, phasing out petrochemicals. Currently, only EG can be produced from bio-based resources (Palacios-Mateo et al., 2021). ...
There is a need for more sustainable recycling technologies for mixed textile waste, including the two main fibers poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) and cotton but also containing other fiber types. Hydrothermal liquefaction has been shown to be a promising technology to recycle textile waste containing cotton and PET into bio-oil and terephthalic acid (TPA). However, the practically accumulated composition of textile waste is more complex and features more than two fibers. In the present study we investigated the effect of eight different fabrics individually in ternary mixtures with a fixed ratio of cotton and PET and in a complex mixture reflecting the global fiber production. It was found that between 3 and 12 wt% bio-oil and 17–77 wt% TPA can be obtained depending on composition and temperature. Fibers with a high nitrogen content, such as suede, acrylic and nylon, significantly decreased the TPA yields due to the formation of terephthalic amides.
... Nevertheless filters can increase the lifetime of e.g. pumps or valves inside the appliance, which makes internal filters also a useful tool to increase the lifetime of an appliance in the near future [14,15]. Therefore, the development of methods for retaining/collecting microfibers and ejecting them from the appliance is a key challenge. ...
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The development of enhanced processes for filtration is one solution for stopping the increasing freshwater and sea pollution caused by microplastic and microfibers. Major contributors to micro-X pollution are domestic devices such as washing machines, which also hold a high technical potential for separating problematic soils from waste water during cleaning cycles. The focus of the present paper are the biomimetic development of a novel concept for filtration and removal of particles such as microfibers in conventional washing machines. To this goal, a TRIZ analysis yielded viable solutions for the major key issues. In a next step, measurements were made with various filters with and without ribbed structures. The results are promising for the incorporation in a filter concept that is easy to operate and cost-effective.
... Polyesters, widely utilized as advanced materials have rapidly become a foundation in human's daily interactions. Erstwhile, plastics termed 'single-use' were long prepared from non-ecofriendly sources, which due to their poor biodegradability accumulated over the years leading to massive white-pollution currently estimated as 12% of the annual global plastic production [1][2][3]. This proliferation is driven by ease of industrial manufacturing coupled to the slow changing speed of society's household habits such as reduction, controlled, re-utilization and disposal of afterlife plastics. ...
Full-text available
The rising cost of petrochemicals owing to the rapid depletion of fossil resources has gradually divert research interest to novel chemicals derived from biomass feedstock. In this study we explored the synthesis, properties and ecotoxicity of a series of sustainable poly(hexylene 2,5-thiophenedicarboxylate-co-bis(2-hydroxyethoxybenzene)s (PTBHs) copolyesters suitable as form-fil-seal packaging materials. From the results, simply varying the ratios of HDO/BHEB afford control over the copolymers crystallinity, thermal and mechanical properties including degradability. The thermal analysis revealed the copolyesters possess satisfactory glass transition temperature (Tg) ranging from 75 to 112 °C and melting point from 160 to 205 °C, which are comparable to poly(ethylene furanoate) PEF and superior to poly(ethylene terephthalate) PET. These novel biopolymers exhibit tensile strength between 53 and 72 MPa and elongation at break of over 780%, higher than their corresponding homopolyesters. These promising properties were optimized with the increase of TH content, ranging from TB-enriched to TH-enriched copolyesters, exhibiting satisfactory heat-seal strength in the range of 0.77–0.45 N/mm. The biopolymers exhibit the potential as mere replacements to PETs, but their cost-rentability still needs to be investigated. Graphical Abstract The authors synthesized a novel class of fully non-toxic thiophene biopolymers and showed the synergistic effect of HDO on the structure, thermal and mechanical properties.
... However, they do show that not only synthetic fibers are released, but also natural ones. Some studies report that natural textiles can release more MFs than synthetic ones during washing [39,42,43]. Naturally, the usual reaction to this finding is that there is no reason for concern about natural fibers in the environment since they are biodegradable [44]. ...
Full-text available
Microplastics have become a topic of considerable concern and intensive study over the past decade. They have been found everywhere in the oceans, including the deepest trenches and remotest parts of the Arctic. They are ingested by many animals and some are incorporated into tissues. There is considerable effort in studying what effects they have on marine life. It has become clear that when water samples are collected in ways that prevent most long thin particles from escaping through pores of a net, the most abundant type of microplastics found in water and sediments are microfibers (fibers with dimensions less than 5 mm). The major source of these pollutants is synthetic textiles, such as polyester or polyamides, which shed microfibers during their entire life cycle. Microfibers are released during textile manufacturing, everyday activities (e.g., washing, drying, wearing) and final disposal. The complexity of microfiber release mechanisms and of the factors involved make the identification and application of ways to reduce the inputs of microfibers very challenging. A comprehensive approach is strongly needed, taking into account solutions at a number of levels, such as re-engineering textiles to minimize shedding, applying washing machine filters, developing advanced wastewater treatment plants and improving the management of textile wastes. To harmonize and make mandatory the solutions identified, a variety of potential government policies and regulations is also needed.
The textile industries are responsible for the inadequate discarding of diverse dyes in the industrial effluents, causing serious damage to the environment. The application of biological treatments in the last decades, using several microorganisms has been reported as the potential use of bioactive compounds. Biosurfactants stand out among them and can be obtained from different sources such as plants, bacteria, filamentous fungi, and yeasts. Due to its biodegradability and low toxicity, it has led to the intensification of scientific studies in a wide range of applications in various industrial segments. This chapter provided a review of the main environmental impacts caused by the textile industry, conventional treatments used in textile treatment, and application of biosurfactants for the treatment of environments contaminated with textile waste and industrial processes.KeywordsBiosurfactantDecolorizationTextile industryEcofriendly substrates
The ongoing threat of global warming has resulted in numerous attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and impede its ramifications. Replacing fossil fuels in products with renewable biobased materials is currently one approach to tackle the climate change crisis. Lignocellulose is the most abundant natural biomass source and is a potential candidate to replace the non-renewable resources currently made with petroleum-based products. Cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, which together make up lignocellulose, are all suitable choices for the creation of biobased materials. This review aims to highlight some of the recent efforts towards synthesizing renewable biobased polymers from raw lignocellulose, as well as refined cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin sources while identifying some of the current applications to which they are suited. Open Access Link
We analyzed the problematic textile fiber waste as potential precursor material to produce multilayer cotton fiber biocomposite. The properties of the products were better than the current dry bearing type particleboards and ordinary dry medium-density fiberboard in terms of the static bending strength (67.86 MPa), internal bonding strength (1.52 MPa) and water expansion rate (9.57%). The three-layer, four-layer and five-layer waste cotton fiber composite (WCFC) were tried in the experiment, the mechanical properties of the three-layer WCFC are insufficient, the five-layer WCFC is too thick and the four-layer WCFC had the best comprehensive performance. The cross-section morphology of the four-layer WCFC shows a dense structure with a high number of adhesives attached to the fiber. The hardness and stiffness of the four-layer cotton fiber composite enhanced by the high crystallinity of cellulose content, and several chemical bondings were presence in the composites. Minimum mass loss (30%) and thermal weight loss rate (0.70%/°C) was found for the four-layer WCFC. Overall, our findings suggested that the use of waste cotton fiber (WCF) to prepare biocomposite with desirable physical and chemical properties is feasible, and which can potentially be used as building material, furniture and automotive applications.
The current study examined the effect of cellulase enzyme bio-scouring on the banana fabric and the improvement in the antimicrobial property of the same fabric with the natural plant-based extract. Pre-treatment of banana fabric with cellulase enzyme was optimized with different parameters, namely enzyme concentration (2%), pH (5.5), MLR (Material to Liquid Ratio) (1:20), time (60 min), and temperature (55 °C). Effect of the enzyme bio-scouring on surface properties was studied using characterization techniques such as Attenuated Total Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) Spectroscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS), Wet-out time, Water contact angle and Hydrophilicity test. The changes in bulk properties due to the enzymatic treatment were studied by Weight Loss (%), X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), Thermal Attenuated Gravimetric Analysis (TGA), and Tensile Strength Measurement. The ATR-FTIR spectroscopy and XPS characterization revealed enhancement in the concentration of polar functional groups like -CHO, -COOH, -OH on the surface of the cellulase-treated banana fabric. For the antimicrobial finish, leaf extracts of Camellia sinensis (Green Tea) and Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) were applied to cellulase-treated banana fabric in different percentages, coupled with citric acid as a cross-linking agent. Antimicrobial testing was done using the Agar plate method and the altered Hoenstein test against one gram-positive bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) and one gram-negative bacteria (Escherichia coli). In the case of cellulase enzyme treated banana fabric, 97% reduction for S. aureus and 92% reduction for E. coli were achieved. The durability of the finish was tested, and the antimicrobial finish persisted up to three cycles of washing in the case of the cellulase enzyme-treated banana fabric. In contrast, the antimicrobial finish was lost after the first washing of untreated fabric. According to the findings, the cellulase enzyme treatment can be used as an environmentally acceptable method for improving surface properties and adsorption of the antimicrobial extracts, thereby enhancing the antimicrobial property of the banana fabric.
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Graphical Abstract Highlights d Microplastics were found in snow and stream water samples on Mt. Everest d The highest microplastics were discovered in a sample from 8,440 m.a.s.l. d Most microplastics were polyester fibers, likely from clothing and equipment d Technological advances could minimize microplastic pollution from exploration In Brief An analysis of snow and stream water on Mt. Everest up to 8,440 m.a.s.l. found microplastics (<5 mm) that were more concentrated near high human presence. Most of these microplastics were polyester fibers, likely to come from clothing and equipment. Exploration of extreme, remote environments requires appropriate stewardship, including progressing technological advances in gear design and minimising specific sources of plastic pollution. SUMMARY Mount Everest was once a pristine environment. However, due to increased tourism, waste is accumulating on the mountain, with a large proportion being made of plastic. This research aimed to identify and characterize microplastic (MP) pollution near the top of highest mountain on Earth and could illustrate the implications for the environment and the people living below. Stream water and snow were collected from multiple locations leading up to, and including, the Balcony (8,440 m.a.s.l). MPs were detected at an~30 MP L À1 in snow and 1 MP L À1 in stream water, and the majority were fibrous. Therefore, with increased tourism, deposition of MP near Mt. Everest is expected to rise. At a pivotal point in the exploration of remote areas, environmental stewardship should focus on technological and other advances toward minimizing sources of MP pollution.
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Traceability and monitoring of industrial processes are becoming more important to assure the value of final products. Blockchain technology emerged as part of a movement linked to criptocurrencies and the Internet of Things, providing nice-to-have features such as traceability, authenticity and security to sectors willing to use this technology. In the retail industry, blockchain offers users the possibility to monitor details about time and place of elaboration, the origin of raw materials, the quality of materials involved in the manufacturing processes, information on the people or companies that work on it, etc. It allows to control and monitor textile articles, from their production or importing initial steps, up to their acquisition by the end consumer, using the blockchain as a means of tracking and identification during the whole process. This technology can also be used by the apparel industry in general and, more specifically, for ready-to-wear clothing, for tracing suppliers and customers along the entire logistics chain. The goal of this paper is to introduce the more recent traceability schemes for the apparel industry together with the proposal of a framework for ready-to-wear clothing which allows to ensure the transparency in the supply chain, clothing authenticity, reliability and integrity, and validity of the retail final products, and of the elements that compose the whole supply chain. In order to illustrate the proposal, a case study on a women’s shirt from an apparel and fashion company, where a private and open blockchain is used for tracing the product, is included. Blockchain actors are proposed for each product stage.
Full-text available
In recent year, there has been increasing concern about the growing amount of plastic waste coming from daily life. Different kinds of synthetic plastics are currently used for an extensive range of needs, but in order to reduce the impact of petroleum-based plastics and material waste, considerable attention has been focused on “green” plastics. In this paper, we present a broad review on the advances in the research and development of bio-based polymers analogous to petroleum-derived ones. The main interest for the development of bio-based materials is the strong public concern about waste, pollution and carbon footprint. The sustainability of those polymers, for general and specific applications, is driven by the great progress in the processing technologies that refine biomass feedstocks in order to obtain bio-based monomers that are used as building blocks. At the same time, thanks to the industrial progress, it is possible to obtain more versatile and specific chemical structures in order to synthetize polymers with ad-hoc tailored properties and functionalities, with engineering applications that include packaging but also durable and electronic goods. In particular, three types of polymers were described in this review: Bio-polyethylene (Bio-PE), bio-polypropylene (Bio-PP) and Bio-poly(ethylene terephthalate) (Bio-PET). The recent advances in their development in terms of processing technologies, product development and applications, as well as their advantages and disadvantages, are reported.
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The global production of plastics made from non-renewable fossil feedstocks has grown more than 20-fold since 1964. While more than eight billion tons of plastics have been produced until today, only a small fraction is currently collected for recycling and large amounts of plastic waste are ending up in landfills and in the oceans. Pollution caused by accumulating plastic waste in the environment has become worldwide a serious problem. Synthetic polyesters such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) have widespread use in food packaging materials, beverage bottles, coatings and fibres. Recently, it has been shown that post-consumer PET can be hydrolysed by microbial enzymes at mild reaction conditions in aqueous media. In a circular plastics economy, the resulting monomers can be recovered and re-used to manufacture PET products or other chemicals without depleting fossil feedstocks and damaging the environment. The enzymatic degradation of post-consumer plastics thereby represents an innovative, environmentally benign and sustainable alternative to conventional recycling processes. By the construction of powerful biocatalysts employing protein engineering techniques, a biocatalytic recycling of PET can be further developed towards industrial applications. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Science to enable the circular economy’.
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Microplastics (MPs) represent a current public health concern since toxicity has not yet fully investigated. They were found in several foods, but to the best of our knowledge, at this time no data was reported for the edible vegetables and fruits. We focused on diet exposure aiming to evaluate the number and the size (<10 μm) of MPs in the most commonly consumed vegetables and fruits, in relation to their recommended daily intake too. MPs extraction and analysis were carried out using an innovative Italian methodology and SEM-EDX, respectively. Finally, we calculated the Estimated Daily Intakes (EDIs) for adults and children for each type of vegetal and fruit. The higher median (IQR) level of MPs in fruit and vegetable samples was 223,000 (52,600-307,750) and 97,800 (72,175-130,500), respectively. In particular, apples were the most contaminated fruit samples, while carrot was the most contaminated vegetable. Conversely, the lower median (IQR) level was observed in lettuce samples 52,050 (26,375-75,425). Both vegetable and fruit samples MPs levels were characterized by wide variability. The smallest size of MPs was found in the carrot samples (1.51 μm), while the biggest ones were found in the lettuce (2.52 μm). Both vegetable and fruit samples had size of the MPs characterized by low variability. We found the highest median level of MPs in samples purchased from the “fruiter 3” (124,900 p/g) and the lowest in those purchased in “supermarket” (87,600 p/g). The median size of the MPs had overlapping dimensions in all the purchase sites, with the exception of the samples purchased at the "shop at km zero 2" which had slightly smaller size (1.81 μm). The highest adults’ (4.62E+05) and children’s (1.41E+06) EDIs are due the ingestion of apples, instead the lowest are due to the ingestion of carrots (adults: 2.96E+04; children: 1.15E+05). We hypothesized that the mechanism of uptake and translocation of MPs can be the same described and reported for carbon-nanomaterials. This may be a possible translocation route of MPs by environment to vegetables permitting, so, the translocation or uptake inside of their biological systems. Based on the results obtained it is urgent important to perform toxicological and epidemiological studies to investigate for the possible effects of MPs on human health.
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Not just settling What controls the distribution of microplastics on the deep seafloor? Kane et al. show that the answer to that question is more complicated than particles simply settling from where they are found on the sea surface (see the Perspective by Mohrig). Using data that they collected off the coast of Corsica, the authors show that thermohaline-driven currents can control the distribution of microplastics by creating hotspots of accumulation, analogous to their role in causing focused areas of seafloor sediment deposition. Such currents also supply oxygen and nutrients to deep-sea benthos, so deepsea biodiversity hotspots are also likely to be microplastic hotspots. Science , this issue p. 1140 ; see also p. 1055
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The fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter after aviation, accounting for up to 10% of global pollution. Despite the widely publicized environmental impacts, however, the industry continues to grow, in part due to the rise of fast fashion, which relies on cheap manufacturing, frequent consumption and short-lived garment use. In this Review, we identify the environmental impacts at critical points in the textile and fashion value chain, from production to consumption, focusing on water use, chemical pollution, CO2 emissions and textile waste. Impacts from the fashion industry include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year and 1.5 trillion litres of water consumed. On the basis of these environmental impacts, we outline the need for fundamental changes in the fashion business model, including a deceleration of manufacturing and the introduction of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain, as well a shift in consumer behaviour — namely, decreasing clothing purchases and increasing garment lifetimes. These changes stress the need for an urgent transition back to ‘slow’ fashion, minimizing and mitigating the detrimental environmental impacts, so as to improve the long-term sustainability of the fashion supply chain.
In order to reduce the exposure of the user and environment to various restricted chemicals, understanding of the threshold limit of restricted substances is important. Any doubt about the compliance of the product must be clarified through evaluation by the right technique. Final product must be within the limit value of any restricted substances; otherwise it may not only jeopardize the health and safety aspects but also create significant impact on our environment. The chapter first discusses legislation and limits/restrictions of restricted substances such as banned amines in azo dyes, allergenic disperse dyes, other carcinogenic dyes, and formaldehyde. The chapter then emphasizes on heavy metals, pentachlorophenol and tetrachlorophenol, organotin compounds, chlorinated organic carriers, fluorocarbons, phthalates, polyvinyl chloride, alkyl phenol ethoxylates, flame retardants, and dimethyl fumerate, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, solvents, dioxins and furans, residual pesticides, chlorinated paraffins, isocyanates, asbestos, and adsorbable organic halides.
Although wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have been identified as important collection points and environmental sources for now omnipresent waste in waterways, the contribution of landfills of microplastics (MPs) to environmental pollution has been overlooked. Due to high complexity and large quantity of contaminants in WWTPs and landfills, MPs discharged from these sites may pose greater risks to human and animal health through adsorbed small molecules or microbial biofilms. This review provides a comprehensive summary of current knowledge about the composition and life cycle of MPs in both WWTPs and landfills. We also discuss technologies that could be implemented in WWTPs or landfill leachate treatment facilities to capture MPs and potentially upcycle the polymers to value-added products. Likewise, we examine the challenges of implementing the different technologies given current practices and infrastructure. Finally, we highlight the areas where additional investigation is needed to devise comprehensive strategies for ameliorating the ubiquitous issue of plastic wastes in waterways: (1) the fragmentation process of plastic debris in landfills and occurrence of MPs in leachate; (2) the relationship among complex chemicals, biofilms and MPs, and their effects on wastewater treatment facilities’ performance; (3) the development of hybrid processes that leverage current wastewater treatment infrastructure for effective degrading or upcycling MPs and/or nanoplastics.
The washing of synthetic clothes is considered to be a substantial source of microplastic to the environment. Therefore, various devices have been designed to capture microfibres released from clothing during the washing cycle. In this study, we compared 6 different devices which varied from prototypes to commercially available products. These were designed to either be placed inside the drum during the washing cycle or fitted externally to filter the effluent wastewater discharge. The aim of this study was to examine the efficacy of these devices at mitigating microfibre release from clothing during washing or at capturing any microfibres released in the wastewater. When compared to the amount of microfibres entering the wastewater without any device (control), the XFiltra filter was the most successful device. This device captured microfibres reducing their release to wastewater by around 78%. The Guppyfriend bag was the second most successful device, reducing microfibre release to wastewater by around 54%; it appeared to mainly work by reducing microfibre shedding from the clothing during the washing cycle. Despite some potentially promising results it is important to recognise that fibres are also released when garments are worn in everyday use. Researchers and industry need to continue to collaborate to better understand the best intervention points to reduce microfibre shedding, by considering both product design and fibre capture.