What happens when you wash your smelly sports shirt? Many of you will know modern sports apparel is made from synthetic ‘plastic’ fibres which are non-biodegradable.

Ecologist Mark Browne reported in 2011 the biggest source of plastic in our oceans comes from our clothing.

By sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines, Browne estimated that around 1,900 individual fibers can be rinsed off a single synthetic shirt - ending up in our oceans.  And numerous studies have shown that small organisms readily ingest microplastics, introducing toxic pollutants to the food chain.

Alarmed by his findings, Browne reached out to prominent clothing brands for help. He sought partnerships to try to determine the flow of synthetic fibers from clothing to the washing machine to the ocean. He also hoped his research might help develop better textile design to prevent the migration of toxic fibers into water systems.

He contacted leaders in the apparel industry - big purveyors of synthetic fabrics - including Patagonia, Nike and Polartec. But none of these companies agreed to lend support.

Browne said “The textile people I’ve talked to have not been trained scientists, they’re more often marketing people.”

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