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Mary Portas joins call for government to force brands to label plastic content of clothes

Tom Bottomley
01 July 2021

Fashion retail tzar and broadcaster Mary Portas has today joined forces with 40 health experts and cross-party politicians calling for the government to force fashion brands to label how much plastic their clothing contains.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell MP, and Conservative peer Lord Swinfen are among the politicians who have signed a letter calling for the measure. They join Future Fabrics Expo Founder, Nina Marenzi, Fashion Revolution Co-founder, Orsola de Castro, and Fashion Act Now Co-founder, Sara Arnold, among a host of academics in the plastic microfibre space.

The letter, organised by global solutions organisation A Plastic Planet, raises concerns for plastic pollution stemming from the textile industry, and follows a report released yesterday which found 60% of sustainability claims made by fashion brands constitute as greenwashing.

While clothing is labelled as containing plastic fibres like polyester, a recent poll found 72% of Britons are unaware of the amount of plastic used to make clothing, and two thirds are not aware of fashion’s impact on plastic pollution.

In recent years, plastic has become more common in fashion with 60% of all material made into clothing being plastic.

Additionally, as clothes are washed they shed plastic fibres which then enter the environment, with more than a third of all microplastics released into the ocean estimated to derive from synthetic fibres.

Laundry alone causes half a million tonnes of microfibres to be released into the seas every year - the equivalent of three billion polyester shirts.

Mary Portas said: “We’re becoming increasingly aware of the textile industry’s impact on the plastic crisis. Unbeknown to people, the essential act of washing clothing is resulting in millions of plastic microfibres polluting nature.

“Consumers, who are more environmentally conscious than ever before, want to do the right thing and it’s only right they’re given the option when buying products to see what impact they will have. 

Weaning ourselves off plastic is going to be hard, so it’s great that a new innovation greenhouse is now available for all fashion brands to co-create plastic free fashion.”

Campaigners believe a clear labelling system will help consumers make informed decisions when considering the environmental impact of the clothing they buy.

A Plastic Planet Co-founder, Sian Sutherland, commented: “For years the fashion industry’s impact on plastic pollution has gone under the radar. We are never going to collect or recycle these tiny toxic fibres. Shoppers deserve to know the impact their clothes are having on the planet. The government must listen to public demand and introduce mandatory labels to show the hidden plastic in clothing.”

Former leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP, added: “Fashion is contributing significant amounts of plastic pollution to our natural habitats, but so far there has been very little accountability.   

“The government says it wants the UK to be a world leader in tackling the plastic crisis. If this is the case then it must consider the textile industry’s role in fuelling it.

The academics in the plastic microfibre space who have signed the letter include Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Dr Shanna Swan, Associate Professor at MIT, Dr Janelle Knox-Hayes,and Professor Ian Croudace of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

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