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Synthetics, Sustainability & The Plastic Problem

Microplastics – any plastic that measures less than 5 millimeters – pose an immense problem to the health of our oceans, our climate and our bodies. Any form of plastic, including microfibers, can potentially contain endocrine disruptors, which have been linked to fertility, obesity and cancer risks.

At the Rising Tide Summit, experts recently gathered to discuss microplastics and the importance of collaboration between industries in order to find solutions. Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Founder and CEO of Lincoln Sarnoff Consulting, moderated the discussion. Christian Cullinane, Managing Director of Consumer Brands at Xeros Technology Group PLO; and Derek Sabori, Sustainability Advisor and Educator at Kozm, joined Sarnoff on stage to discuss their experiences and expertise.

“What we represent here is a microcosm of how we’re looking at plastic pollution, the problem and solutions in general,” Sarnoff said. “We have industry, innovation, NGO’s. All of these three components to create solutions have to be collaborating and communicating, which is what we are hoping to do today.”
During the discussion, Sabori talked about how the shift away from synthetic fibers and toward natural fibers will begin with brands but will need support from consumers.

“The opportunities to move away from it are just sort of a systemic shift in perspective in how the customers engage in the product and how the brands are marketing to them and tell them what they need,” Sabori said. “There’s an opportunity to shift away and show the customer that you can get away with products that aren’t polyester, but it will take both sides – customer and consumer.”

In the UK, consumers are buying “fast fashion,” which is causing major environmental and sustainability concerns. It was such a major issue, Cullinane said, that regulators in the UK have made recommendations such as tax incentives for reusing clothing, in order to reduce the negative impact of the “fast fashion” industry.

Until brands start producing clothing made from more sustainable products, there are things that consumers can do on a daily basis in order to reduce their impact and to prevent spreading microplastics. For one, Sabori says his company’s hemp-fabric yoga pants do not need to be washed.

“No matter how difficult your workout, hang them up afterwards and I promise you, they will be fine tomorrow, and the day after that,” he said.

Cullinane’s Xeros technology is working to reduce water use in processes such as doing the laundry. Their engineers have been tasked with finding solutions specifically targeted toward microfiber filtration. They have developed a filter for washing machines that can last multiple cycles that can be detached and emptied into a recycling bin.

“We believe that is something that should be incorporated into a machine; we don’t think that should be passed on to the consumer,” he said. “From a consumer point of view, it is a necessity that we fix this, and fix it quickly.”

Watch the full conversation below or click to listen to the podcast on Soundcloud