Merino and natural fibres could help clothing companies battle scourge of microplastics

Microplastics are one of the biggest threats to oceans and synthetic textiles are a huge contributor to the problem, but now a New Zealand company is hoping to lead change by promoting the use of natural fibres like merino wool.

Microplastics are one of the biggest threats to oceans, and synthetic textiles are a huge contributor to the problem. Source: 1 NEWS

The issue of microbeads in beauty products is well known, but tiny plastic fibres from clothing are an even bigger issue for oceans and marine life.

For example, each time people wash their synthetic clothing these microplastic fibres break off and, because they’re so tiny, they’re then carried into rivers and eventually oceans.

“How much synthetics people wear, how often they wash their clothing, what kind of washing machines they have,” said Professor Linn Hoffmann, from the Botany department at Otago University.

A recent report indicates synthetic clothing accounts for 35 per cent of microplastic pollution in oceans, compared with just two per cent from microbeads.

So the New Zealand Merino Company's investing in research and development to see how natural fibres like merino can help, including travelling to Europe for talks with textile and clothing manufacturers.

“They’re realising the responsibility that companies must play in terms of what's happening in the world,” said chief executive John Brackenridge.

What makes merino so unique is its super fine natural fibres, and it's biodegradable, taking only months to break down, compared to synthetics which can take thousands of years.

"I think merino has just sort of been discovered by the world and by manufacturers, said Kate Cocks, owner of merino farm, Mount Nicholas Station. “Where people think 'right what else can I use this for'."

Price is a challenge, as merino fabric is much more expensive than synthetic fibre, but industry leaders say more and more consumers are making ethical choices.

"There's a lot of people that want to understand a lot more about what they're putting in their mouths, what they're putting in their bodies,” said Cocks. “Where it comes from, and what's the impact to the environment with the choices that they're making."

With New Zealand’s abundant wool resource, it could be the perfect place to lead the natural fibres movement.