STOP fibrous microplastic pollution from textiles by elucidating fibre damage and manufacturing novel textiles

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Design


Microplastics have been detected in all aquatic habitats, from deep oceans to polar icemelt and can be found in the guts and tissues of aquatic animals. More than one third of the microplastics found in the world oceans are fibrous microplastics from textiles [1]. The fibrous microplastics are released throughout the lifecycle of a textile and their presence in aquatic and terrestrial environments is now well-established phenomena. The washing of textiles annual releases an estimated 0.5 million tonnes fibrous microplastics ocean pollution, which at current rates is expected to accumulate to 22 million tonnes by 2050 [2].

Any remedial measures are challenging given the ubiquity of fibrous microplastics from textiles. Improved plastics with reduced environmental impact, plastic recycling and reduced consumption are extremely important but the release of fibrous microplastics from textiles remains a challenge. Here, we address this challenge by bringing together textile technology, computational modelling and tribology disciplines into a systematic programme of research. The overarching goal of this project is to experimentally and computationally elucidate fibre damage that leads to the generation of fibrous microplastics and use predictive computational modelling to inform the engineering of innovative textile structures which STOP the release of fibrous microplastics from textiles.

There are numerous studies on the release of fibrous microplastics from textiles but the reasons for the generation of fibrous microplastic pollution are not fully elucidated. Building on our preliminary work in a systematic study, a range of bespoke textile materials and structures will be exposed to conditions commonly experienced by textiles to elucidate fibre damage and dynamic changes in the microstructure of textile materials. Gap Inc. and The Microfibre Consortium will help to identify and supply commonly employed textiles to ensure the industrial relevance of the research.

For the first time, the computational wear modelling, based on non-destructive tomographic data of textile structures, will predict fibre damage. The complementary expertise of the University of Leeds and the University of Edinburgh will enable the development of a novel modelling approach. The experimental and computational understanding of fibre damage will also inform the intervention strategies to produce novel textile structures which STOP the release of fibrous microplastics from textiles under usual exposure conditions. The expert input and access to industrial-scale textile manufacturing equipment at Culimeta Saveguard UK will ensure the commercial relevance of developed technologies. The physical and/or chemical strategies can involve polymer modification during extrusion, the novel structural arrangement of fibres in fibrous assemblies, and application of surface finishes/treatment.

The success of the project will
- create a fundamental understanding of the fibre damage (that leads to the generation of fibrous microplastics) and microstructural changes in textiles.
- build realistic and predictive computational wear models of the textile materials and open new avenues for research.
- develop industrially and commercially relevant solutions to STOP the release of fibrous microplastics from textiles.

[1] Boucher J and Friot D. Primary microplastics in the oceans: a global evaluation of sources. IUCN Gland, Switzerland, 2017. [2] Ellen MacArthur Foundation. A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future. 2017.

Planned Impact

The project outcomes and insights will be made available to increase the awareness of fibrous microplastic (FMP) pollution among consumers and help the textile/related industry to gauge the impact of their existing products and develop innovative products. The project will also allow the development of new textile structures for commercial applications. Following will be the beneficiaries of the project.

- The systemic understanding of FMP release will provide reliable data to help local and global fashion and textile industry to better understand the reasons for and their contribution to the build-up of FMP pollution.

- The textile manufacturers will be able to produce FMP-free fabrics which will give a competitive advantage. Within three years post the funded period, this research can enable textile manufacturers to develop textiles (especially polyester, cotton and its blends) with reduced FMP impacts. This will give a competitive advantage to the UK and global apparel retailers to offer FMP-pollution-free high-quality clothing. This will enhance the brand reputation of apparel retailers and provide cost-efficient options for environmentally conscious consumers to purchase clothing with reduced environmental footprint. In the long run, the technology will produce FMP-free fabrics from a wide range of textile materials and applications, without relying on a change in consumer behaviour to STOP FMP pollution. The direct beneficiaries include project partners Gap Inc. (renowned global clothing and accessories retailer) and Culimeta Saveguard (British textile mills).

- The development of new textile structures is envisaged to be either effected by a retrofit modification on existing textile machinery or innovative processing within the current technological domain. In case of equipment modifications, it will allow machinery manufacturers to produce new equipment or modify existing equipment.

- The laundry equipment manufacturers (including the member of project advisory board Xeros Technologies) will benefit to study new machine designs to curb the release of FMP. Similarly, the manufacturers of laundry detergents will understand the impact of their products on the release of FMP pollution. This will help them to investigate new formulations to mitigate the release of FMP. The project partner Unilever (Consumer Goods Company and a household name in laundry products) will be a direct beneficiary.

- The project has integrated outreach and public engagement activities via organising events and digital footprint on the social media and the World Wide Web with regular project updates and infographics. From the first quarter of year two of the project, the available data and its communication will increase awareness of the extent of FMP pollution among the consumers. Furthermore, the outcomes will also inform consumers of the fabric types and conditions that result in lower FMP impact from existing clothing. Gap Inc. and The Microfibre Consortium (project partners) will help to disseminate the findings (non-specialist summaries/infographics) to increase the impact and outreach to consumers.

- Working together with The Microfibre Consortium and internal team at the University of Leeds, data and insights will be useful to liaise with lobby groups and legislators to inform future policy.


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Description FFF Responsive R&D Call 3: Ruby Moon Ltd. Development of a Superior Polyamide Yarn 
Organisation Ruby Moon Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The University of Leeds (Dr Muhammad Tausif) would bring expertise in the identification and testing of post-consumer waste. Furthermore, the input would include exploration of separation technologies and potential for the development of fibres from waste. The University will provide know-how, technical expertise and access to lab facilities.
Collaborator Contribution A feasibility study: A circular manufactured yarn for commercial, environmental and social benefit. This study will explore the best approach to create a new superior polyamide (PA6) from waste nylon (activewear) clothing via chemical breakdown and reconstitution and to explore nano additive manufacturing to develop a superior performance yarn including, but not limited to, the following benefits, already proven in similar materials: • Increased durability and eliminate the shedding of microfibres at source; • Increased elasticity to remove the need for elastane in stretch clothing; • Adding a nano trace for future ID & recycling; • Reduce the amount of dyestuffs necessary. (Public Statement) Industrial partner brings expertise, connectivity & raw materials
Impact This project will do some of the feasibility work required to kick-start a culture change within the UK Fashion & Textile sector, putting in place building blocks so that retailers and manufacturers have a clear idea of what could technically be possible so that they can become more environmentally sustainable in their approach to recycling, re-use, and manufacturing.
Start Year 2021
Description FFF Responsive R&D Call 3: hydrocotton Ltd. hydrocotton - cotton fibre industry baselining 
Organisation HydroCotton Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The University of Leeds (Dr Muhammad Tausif) would bring expertise in the benchmarking of produced cotton fibres. This would involve detailed testing and characterisation of fibre properties and conversion of the fibres into textile assemblies at laboratory/pilot scale. The University will provide know-how, technical expertise and access to lab facilities.
Collaborator Contribution Cotton is a key fibre for textile, in particular consumer, applications with 24 million tonnes use last year. hydroCotton's novel approach to cotton agriculture has the potential to radically decrease environmental stresses of the traditional cotton production while increasing yield and fibre quality. hydroCotton's farming approach applies technology to remove 'speed bumps' during the 3 month process of cotton boll formation. The technology can produce sustainable raw material with improved fibre quality with higher economic value. The key aims are: • Manufacture novel harvesting and ginning mechanisms focusing on maintaining fibre quality and reducing contamination; • Fibre and yarn characterisation and testing to baseline against 'standard' market equivalents, combined with t-shirt demonstrator for comparative testing. (Public Statement) Industrial partner brings expertise, industrial connectivity & raw materials
Impact hC cotton fibre has the potential to be novel, sustainable material, balancing both radically resource-efficient farming and high-quality fibre outputs. This project will enable the best farming, harvesting, ginning and yarn spinning techniques to be established to showcase hC fibre to the global industry. As a UK based innovation project, this could once again position the UK globally as a market leader for cotton agricultural techniques, fibre processing and yarn spinning.
Start Year 2021
Description Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We covered the solutions that the textile industry and academia are developing to reduce microfibres shedding into our land, oceans, and even the human body.

In this episode, Dr Muhammed Tausif (Associate Professor in sustainable manufacturing) moderated the podcast and participants includes from academia and industry.

Jamie Hunt (Pressio)
Paul Servin (Xeros)
Alma Palacios (PhD researcher University of Leeds)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Project Webpage and Youtube Video 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The page describes the project summary and included the video of the equipment installed as part of the project. This resulted in contact by a Textile Recycling Company in Canada and another company from Italy. This has initiated discussions and currently exploring future research partnerships.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022