With Secondhand September in full swing it’s easy to get carried away with all the fun of charity shopping but there are serious issues at the heart of the move towards sustainability.  Student intern Sophie Williams highlights the issue of microplastics in the production and disposal of fast fashion 

According to the UN, the clothing industry is accountable for 8-10% of all global carbon emissions. With people buying more, and fast fashion companies are offering consumers more choice and clothing collections than ever – the effects of mass production and synthetic fibers are becoming all the more transparent.  

Many clothing items are made from cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester and polyamide. Synthetic fibers like polyester release microplastics into the environment during their production, wearing, and home washing.  Microplastics are non-biodegradable and amass 31% of all the ocean’s plastic pollution. It also has been estimated that they comprise up to 10% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a body of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, although estimated by some to be a lot higher, located in the North Pacific.   

Microplastics are having a devasting and long-term effect on marine wildlife. Not only do plastics exult harmful chemicals and pollutants, but expansive areas like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch restrict sunlight access for the plankton and algae below. Microscopic organisms like plankton are essential to the marine food web and if they are at threat, then so is our entire eco-system.  

Scarcely, it’s not just our Oceans that are being polluted – microplastics have even been found 8,440 meters above sea level. A team of international researchers at The University of Plymouth found plastic fibers in snow samples from Mount Everest and have suggested that they came from the clothing and equipment of expeditioners. 

What can we do? Sustainability and Social Responsibility.  

Think carefully and choose natural materials and fabrics when possible. Recent research has shown that polyester produces up to 3 x more emissions than natural fibers like cotton, which are biodegradable. By shopping second-hand, we can reduce the demand for mass production. By limiting our consumption of fast fashion items, we can decrease the number of synthetic fibers in production – and lessen the constant flow of microplastics into our environment, that are contaminating our air, our food chain, and water supply.  

Written by guest writer, Sophie Williams