Clothes retailers: how are you cutting plastic pollution?

Nearly 40,000 Friends of the Earth supporters called on retailers to stop plastic pollution from the clothes they sell. We wrote to UK firms to find out what they're doing.
  Published:  07 Dec 2018    |      2 minute read

As the full extent of plastic pollution becomes evident, we know we need to do more to fix this huge problem.

Plastic is everywhere. Even in our clothes – in fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic.

We wrote to some of the UK's best-known clothing companies because they're best placed to make the biggest impact – and curb plastic pollution from the clothes they sell us.

Their responses

Most of them agree that there needs to be a shared method to measure how much plastic pollution their products cause. That’s a vital step towards phasing out the worst culprits.

But we’re still some way off from an industry-standard approach that stops microfibres escaping into waterways from factories.

Read our letter to the companies [PDF] and the responses we got from Arcadia (PDF – who own brands like TopShop), Asda [PDF], Debenhams [PDF], H&M Group and Tesco [PDF]. We also heard back from the British Retail Consortium [PDF], who outlined how they're working with other retailers.

Help us heap the pressure on them by following up with your own letter. Write to the companies that you think avoided our questions (like Debenhams) [PDF], or those that didn't even respond – Sainsbury’s, Matalan and Inditex (with brands like Zara and Pull&Bear).

How these tiny fibres can end up in our food

Every time we wash our plastic clothes, they shed millions of plastic fibres – known as microfibres.

These tiny threads can drain out of our washing machines and pass through the sewers to wastewater treatment plants. Here they’re either trapped in sewage sludge – which is then spread on fields – or pass straight through filters into the sea.

It gets worse. Once in our oceans they can absorb nasty chemicals, adding these to the chemicals such as dyes that they already contain.

Disturbingly, sea creatures are eating these toxic fibres, potentially passing them up the food chain. Some studies have found them in seafood like mussels.

Level playing field

As concerned shoppers, we need to know that companies:

  1. understand how much of a problem they're causing, and which materials are the most polluting;
  2. are doing all they can to stop microfibres escaping into waterways from their factories;
  3. are committed to phasing out the most polluting materials.

They must take responsibility for the harm they're causing.

We need a law to ensure all companies play their part in reducing plastic pollution – because at the moment some companies are doing less than others.

Please sign our petition calling on the government to dramatically reduce the plastic pouring into our oceans.