Fashion students research plastic pollution in Orkney

Fashion students research plastic pollution in Orkney

March 25, 2019
Marcia González

Heriot-Watt University research to study fiber shedding and risk to sea life and aquatic organisms

A group of Heriot-Watt University fashion and textile students are researching how fiber shedding from clothes interferes with microplastic pollution in Orkney, off the north-eastern coast of Scotland.

The postgraduate students have traveled up to Orkney and are working with others at the University’s International Centre for Island Technology, testing sediment samples including seagrass beds, jellyfish, crabs and fish.

When a piece of clothing is washed, it sheds thousands of microfibers which eventually end up in the ocean. These pose a risk to sea life and aquatic organisms which feed or ingest the fibers incidentally or with other food sources.

Currently, an average of 1,900 fibers per garment per wash and 700,000 fibers from an average 6kg wash have been recorded.

Now, the students will be testing sediments in laboratories with the aim of building an understanding of the problem and – hopefully – a long-term solution.

“This is a unique opportunity for postgraduate students from both schools to get together to look at a problem that is threatening our water and marine life, thus our planet,” commented Dr Sue Thomas, School of Textiles and Design. “No other university has two schools looking at this problem from both ends of the loop!

“It’s an issue that impacts us all. Students from our MSc Ethics in Fashion program cover an extensive range of ethical issues affecting the fashion and textiles industries.

“We are really excited to be able discuss this vital area in-situ with expert researchers and work alongside them in the incredibly beautiful surroundings of Stromness. Our students are thrilled as it’s a first time in Orkney for them all!”

“Millions of tonnes of plastic are produced for the textiles industry each year,” added Dr Angela Capper, from the International Centre for Island Technology. “Shedding from these garments through general wear and washing processes result in microfibers entering wastewater and ultimately our oceans with potential impacts to aquatic organisms and ultimately to us.

“Working with students from the School of Textiles and Designs will help to raise the profile of this issue within the textiles arena and hopefully inspire the students to think of new ways to tackle this problem at the start of the manufacturing process.”

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 will take place from Thursday 27 June to Friday 28 June, at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Frankfurt, Germany. To register for this highly focused and solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This