Cover Image microfibres/ Source: Darko Djurin on pixabay

Blocking the escape of microfibres

Microplastics have become a huge social problem. Particles that are invisible to the human eye are now present in abundance in the world’s oceans. Textiles and clothing made from synthetic fibre are among the major causes of environmental pollution. They release microfibres during wet processing at the manufacturing stage, in use and when washed. The amount of microfibres released can, however, be reduced, as experts in the field have already have solutions available – or are developing alternatives – for all stages of production, from the fibre itself to the finished article.

Textiles and apparel made from synthetic staple fibres are a well-known cause for the shedding of microplastics. In wet processes during manufacture, during the wear and care of fleecy jackets and their like, microscopic particles get into the washing water and from there into the environment. There continues to be much speculation about the microfibres that are actually flushed into the oceans, although the textile research institutes are working hard to get more reliable figures. Notwithstanding this, it remains within the power of every textiles manufacturer and every apparel producer, to grab the problem by the roots and to minimise the release of short man-made fibres at all stages of processing. Changes to the design of the textiles, the use of bio-degradable polymers and/or efficient filtering of the wash liquor can make a huge contribution to reducing the amount of microplastic that is released.

A clean separation
But the apparel industry can also join the fight against the rise of microplastics at every stage of manufacturing. Beginning with the cutting stage, where laser technology stops the release of even the tiniest synthetic fibres at the edges, since they are melted during the process. As a result, the durability in use and during washing is improved. Where laser cutting is not possible, the work should be undertaken using knives on well-laminated textile layers and care taken to ensure accurate severance of each individual fibre in the composite textile. That way, subsequent trimming to separate or correct the cut-outs is no longer required; both are sources of unnecessary fibre dust.

Neatly sewn
Care in the way in which the sewing process is managed is also helpful in avoiding material loss. If the system of needle and thread is optimised to the material used in the manufacturing process, then this reduces the risk of individual fibres being ripped out of, say, a quilted material or a fleecy surface. And, then again, for sewing machines with a built-in edge trimmer, a dust-extraction system can help enormously. This removes the trimmed residue immediately from the sewing area and keeps to a minimum the number of fibres that escape and, amongst other things, fall onto the workpiece itself. As a result, it is not only the environment that is protected, but the health of the operator and the mechanical ‘inner workings’ of the sewing machine, too.
Thread-monitoring systems can make a further contribution: they more or less control every stroke of the needle, thus making corrections to the seam and the subsequent cutting work that this entails, redundant.

True to the adage ‘a stitch in time’, each individual stage of the textile and garment industry can help stem the rise of synthetic microfibres. And Texprocess is the place to find out all about ways of doing this.

Cover Image: Darko Djurin on pixabay

Sabine Anton-Katzenbach

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