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Literature review: Microplastics emissions from textile laundry including emission scenarios for EU

Studies 03 Nov 2020

APPLiA is interested in contributing to the development of reliable scientific data that could help understanding the magnitude of microplastics release in the environment. For this reason, we commissioned the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) to carry out this literature review.

APPLiA – Home Appliance Europe – and its members are concerned when it comes to the political and societal discussion about the release of microplastics in the environment. Facing a plethora of scientific data and worrying extrapolations on the overall emission of microplastic from textiles, we are interested in contributing to the development of reliable scientific data that could aid to understand the magnitude of the issue. For this reason, APPLiA commissioned the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) to carry out a literature review on the microplastic emission from textile laundry. RISE is a research institute, which has a lot of experience in the field of textile research and microplastics. It has been involved in specific research projects on microplastics (MinShed) and has conducted research for the Swedish government on the efficiency of microplastic filtering devices. The main purpose of this critical review was to collect and compare current published data on the release of microplastic/microfibers (MP/MF) from textiles during laundry.

Among others, the main findings1 highlighted in the study are the following:

- The values for MF shedding are higher for the experiments performed at lab-scale indicating a harsher treatment compared to full-scale commercial washing machines.2 Therefore, it is also concluded that lab-scale results should not be translated or extrapolated to simulate fullscale domestic washing machines.

- After carefully defining the experimental conditions, the finding estimates roughly 20-500 mg of MFs per kg polyester textiles being released during 2nd – 5th wash cycles.3

- Textiles show significantly higher fiber shedding during initial washes, which then stabilizes after a certain amount of wash cycles. Thus, it is not advisable to extrapolate fiber shedding from studies that only performed 1 or 2 washing cycles.

- In order to estimate the overall emission of microfibers released to the water, RISE calculated a bottom up scenario and reported it in the literature review.

- More research on a broader range of textiles and also on the long-term behavior of the textiles is needed in order to gain a more reliable statistical base.


1 The findings and conclusion can be consulted at page 23 of the Literature Review.

2 This is not only a finding from the Literature Review, but it was also further proved by the De Falco (2019) - The contribution of  washing processes of synthetic clothes to microplastic pollution. 

3 This estimation was done after making a few selections (see p. 20 of the literature review). The values represent at large the  average of the 2nd-5th wash cycle as only few studies perform long term test. However, there is evidence that the emission is  reaching an even lower plateau level after the fifth wash.

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