Being the first blog post for Rolle, I decided that it should be about something that has encompassed my mental and emotional energy as of late…and has shaped one of the core values of the company.
Truthfully, I didn’t give a second thought about buying clothes made from polyester, polyamide, or any poly-based textile until I started weaving. It was a true awakening. I started to take note of how poly clothes felt against my skin and started to educate myself about their impact on the environment.
The textile industry has a lot going wrong between forced labor/ambiguous supply chains, environmental compliances, fast fashion, and even greenwashing. If you recognize how many people need textiles for their backs and homes, it’s easy to understand why the business is so shady. The industry has grown unsustainably since the turn of the nineteenth century to produce extreme volumes and meet the needs and wants of consumers - all while driving down costs and expenses.
Basic economics will tell you that when demand goes up, quality goes down. These days, textiles are made fast, not to last, and just about always synthetic. Major industry stakeholders need to start asking themselves, is it really cost-effective to continue to produce synthetic textiles if the waste is both uncontrollable and more expensive to deal with? Why not push the limitations and technology of natural fibers, and make these infrastructures more efficient?
In 2018, the EPA reported 13 million tons of clothing and footwear waste - of which only 1.7 million tons were recycled (EPA). Whether it’s being produced, in use, or disposed of, there’s A LOT of textiles in circulation, and two-thirds of them are synthetic. So why should you make sure that your next garment purchase is natural? Well, besides the obvious problems with waste, synthetic fibers are a primary micro-plastic. Microfibers from synthetic cloth are released in production, in the washing machine (every.time.), and during fragmentation at disposal. It’s estimated that about 35% of the global release of micro-plastics is from synthetic textiles (Falco et al., 2019). During a typical 5 kg. (11 lbs.) wash load, over 6,000,000 microfibers are released, contingent upon what detergent is used (De Falco et al., 2018). These microfibers end up in our waterways and on land from the application of sewage sludge as crop fertilizer. It is at this point in the life cycle where micro-plastics enter the food web.
Microfibers are always released no matter what it is made of (cotton, linen, wool). If it’s made from plastic, then plastic is being released and breaking down into tiny particles. Cotton fuzz might be a bit less concerning considering nature can efficiently break down cotton vs. a poly-based material. The threshold to which micro-plastics become toxic to human health is unknown, however, we know that they are present in the air, soil, and especially the waterways. We also know they may have some long-term ecological consequences... Studies have shown that micro-plastics have led to impaired reproduction and organ function in fish (Thompson 2018); are stunting the growth of earthworms, which are responsible for breaking up and adding nutrients to the soil for plant growth (Oosthoek 2019); and are present in turtles, birds, oysters, and even mosquitoes (a food source for many species). Let me also remind you that BPA has shown to negatively affect human health in regards to fertility.
Often I feel powerless when it comes to the environment and the current circumstances facing our planet. However, the simple choice to proactively purchase fewer and natural textiles is incredibly impactful. Plastic contamination is happening all around the world and it's one of the most underestimated issues facing our global community. An estimated 12.5–125 trillion particles are accumulating in the ocean (Lindeque et al., 2020). About 1000 tons are settling on U.S. national parks every year. 70% of these micro-plastics drifting in the wind are fibers sourced from textiles (Brahney et al., 2020). The only way we can slow down the rate of synthetic microfibers being released into the environment is to stop the source.
As a start-up, Rolle will likely evolve as a textile design practice but the use of natural fibers in design and production will always stay the same. When it comes to personal purchases, I rule at 80% natural. It’s a little tricky but affordable options are out there. This may not feel like a pertinent problem (to worry about these small 5 mm particles) but I’m promising you that it is. This plastic shit isn’t going away. I urge you to check your tags and learn how your clothes, towels, rugs, curtains, cushions, or shoes were made.
Brahney, J., Hallerud, M., Heim, E., Hahnenberger, M., & Sukumaran, S. (2020). Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States. Science, 368(6496), 1257–1260. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaz5819
De Falco, F., Gullo, M. P., Gentile, G., Di Pace, E., Cocca, M., Gelabert, L., Brouta-Agnésa, M., Rovira, A., Escudero, R., Villalba, R., Mossotti, R., Montarsolo, A., Gavignano, S., Tonin, C., & Avella, M. (2018). Evaluation of microplastic release caused by textile washing processes of synthetic fabrics. Environmental Pollution, 236, 916–925. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.10.057
De Falco, F., Pace, E., Cocca, M., & Avella, M. (2019, April 29). The contribution of washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution. Scientific Reports. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-43023-x?error=cookies_not_supported&code=039b18a4-e81f-4799-af35-c9a8648e3869
Lindeque, P. K., Cole, M., Coppock, R. L., Lewis, C. N., Miller, R. Z., Watts, A. J. R., Wilson-McNeal, A., Wright, S. L., & Galloway, T. S. (2020). Are we underestimating microplastic abundance in the marine environment? A comparison of microplastic capture with nets of different mesh-size. Environmental Pollution, 265, 114721. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2020.114721
Nondurable Goods: Product-Specific Data. (2020, November 12). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/nondurable-goods-product-specific-data#ClothingandFootwear
Oosthoek, S. O. (2019, November 1). Earthworms lose weight in soils polluted with microplastics. Science News for Students. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/earthworms-lose-weight-soils-polluted-microplastics
Thompson, A., (2018, September 4). From Fish to Humans, A Microplastic Invasion May Be Taking a Toll. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-humans-a-microplastic-invasion-may-be-taking-a-toll/