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Founded in 1903, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is an international wildlife conservation organisation based in the UK. We work in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders around the world to protect the biodiversity that underpins the natural systems on which both humans and wildlife rely.
FFI has been working on marine plastic pollution since 2009, recognising it as a serious threat to marine life. As part of this programme, we have engaged with numerous corporate stakeholders, including international businesses and trade associations. Our approach to plastic is not to demonise it as a material, but rather to ensure that it is well managed in a more circular economy, and to work with stakeholders to find feasible solutions that will reduce plastic pollution in the marine environment.
While plastic pollution is often depicted as bags and bottles littering coastlines and the ocean, microplastics – fragments measuring less than 5mm in size – are less visible but highly pervasive, and it is thought there are more than 5 trillion pieces in the world’s oceans1. Increasingly, studies have found that the ocean is contaminated with tiny microplastic fibres (also known as synthetic microfibres) that shed from textiles throughout their manufacture and use. Estimated to be the third largest primary source of microplastic pollution in the ocean by weight2, these fibres are known to have serious impacts on a wide range of marine life.
Plastic fibres in tumble dryer lint. Scorsby/Shutterstock
In recent years, there has been increasing attention on microplastic fibre loss generated from textiles and clothing and by extension, there is more interest in what different sectors and users within the fashion industry can do to minimise their contribution to the problem. Until recently, most of the focus in the microplastic fibre arena was on the release of fibres from the washing of clothes, but it is clear that significant loss also occurs during the garment manufacturing process. New initiatives such as that led by The Microfibre Consortium, Outdoor Industry Association and the European Outdoor Group have started to bring together vested stakeholders to agree standardised approaches to tackling this issue across the sector.
However, a crucial first step in implementing fibre loss prevention measures, is the need to help companies assess and understand how their specific operations might contribute to the problem, where intervention might be necessary, and what can be done to prevent shedding and loss of fibres to the environment.
With this in mind, Fauna & Flora International are working collaboratively with stakeholders from across textile and garment manufacturing supply chains to co-develop a comprehensive Fibre Loss Risk Assessment toolkit (the FLoRA toolkit) as an entry point to assessing the risk of microplastic fibre shedding and loss to the environment at the individual company or facility level.
Taking a holistic approach, the toolkit will consider processes that might generate microplastic fibres and subsequent pathways to the environment, thus facilitating a systematic and consistent approach across industry to identify risk points for shedding and loss within a company’s facility. Where possible, the toolkit will signpost the user to potential solutions or interventions for the risk points identified, linking to publicly available best practice guidance published by other expert groups.
The FLoRA toolkit will be freely available from Fauna & Flora International’s website in early 2023.
In order to ensure that the FLoRA toolkit is useful, thorough, and fit for purpose, we have received expert input at various stages of its design to ensure a fully participatory approach to its development. In November 2022 we opened the FLoRA toolkit for public consultation and invited businesses and industry experts from every stage of textile and apparel manufacturing supply chains to review the contents and provide feedback to ensure that the final toolkit is comprehensive, accessible, and user-friendly.
The Fibre Loss Risk Assessment consultation period is now closed for review. However, if you missed the deadline and would still like to share your expertise and contribute to the toolkit, or discuss the project further, please contact Programme Officer, Catrin Norris, directly to arrange a private consultation – [email protected]
1 Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913.
2 Eunomia (2016) Plastics in the Marine Environment: Where do they come from, where do they go? Report.