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New research examines the impact of the textile usage on freshwater environments

10 February 2020


Global demands for synthetic and natural textiles places freshwater environments under increasing pressures.

New interdisciplinary research from Cardiff Water Research Institute shows how technological and societal processes shape the way textiles are produced, used and disposed across the globe.

The work was led by Catherine Stone, an undergraduate at Cardiff University. She says: ‘It was great to have the opportunity to work as part of a research community and to publish a paper as an undergraduate. It really opened up opportunities for the future'.

The project brought together ecologists, Dr Fred Windsor and Prof Isabelle Durance, and economist Prof Max Munday, to analyse the environmental impact of textiles on the quality and ecological health of freshwaters.

'The Water Research Institute fosters interdisciplinary science on topical water challenges. The case of fast fashion is a typical example of a complex issue that needs to be understood and addressed in a more holistic way.’

Professor Isabelle Durance Professor and Director of the Water Research Institute

Two predominant textile types, synthetic (Polyethylene terephthalate PET) and natural (wool), were compared to illustrate risks to freshwater ecosystems throughout the textile lifecycle, through production, use and disposal. The research shows how both synthetic and natural textiles produce a variety of environmental pollutants through their life cycle. Synthetic textiles are more polluting during their disposal stage, whereas wool textiles are more polluting during their production stage.

The research also considered social and economic drivers of environmental impacts, and made connections between trade in textiles, industry location and levels of state environmental regulation.

Prof Max Munday says: 'The environmental costs of such pollutants are not equally distributed across the globe. Countries where much of the global production of textiles occurs have less stringent environmental regulations'.

'It is crucial to use alternative processes and develop technological solutions to reduce environmental impacts of textile production, use and disposal. However, societal changes - from alternative behaviours to improvements in legislation on textile pollution - should also be implemented.

Read the full publication in Science of the Total Environment.

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For more information, visit the Water Research Institute website.