Natural Science Days at FEP – Microplastics from our clothes

The fashion industry is one of the biggest industrial environmental polluters. Global production of textile fibres is growing exponentially, even surpassing the growth rate of the world’s population. Over 70% of clothing uses synthetic fibres such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, elastane, etc. (UTMUN 2021). Why? Because they are cheap and versatile, create stretch and breathability in activewear, provide warmth and strength in winter clothing, have high abrasion resistance, and offer a fine touch and feel. However, the small fibres can tear from garments during wear and during washing and drying due to the mechanical and chemical pressures to which the fabrics are exposed.

Thus, textile fibres can pass through wastewater into larger bodies of water and, by air, into very distant environments. Textile fibres in the sea represent one of the key sources of microplastics, contributing as much as 35% of all primary microplastics in the sea (IUCN, 2019). During the FEP Natural Science Days, we taught students from Anton Aškerc Velenje Primary School about the traces and pitfalls of plastic and microplastics from our clothes.

The students:

– made the synthetic polymer nylon from two very complex ingredients and learned how complicated it is to chemically identify these polymers,

– observed different forms of microplastics under a microscope and with a magnifying glass, and compared them with organisms and substances that can be found in the environment in micro-sizes,

– realised that there are many textile materials, each with its own advantages and disadvantages,

– played a game of blind identification between natural and synthetic textile materials,

– checked the amazing data on microplastics in our environment,

– learned about the mountains of textile waste along the African coast, and

– weighed nearly 45 kg of clothes containing 48.5% synthetic textile fibres!

At the end of the day, they also visited the exhibition of Museum of Recent History Celje “No Way Are We Throwing Things Away”, which is hosted in the Gaudeamus Exhibition Centre at the FEP.
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