Mönchengladbach - A new research project examining the environmental issues associated with the release of microplastics during the washing of polyester fleece garments is said to have demonstrated a number of successes.
A group of researchers at the University of Applied Sciences in Mönchengladbach aims to develop environmentally compatible fleece fabrics. Manufactured in the conventional way, this fluffy fabric releases micro plastic that ends up in waters, oceans and soils and finally in the stomach of animals and humans.
German TV station WDR has been presenting research successes the team around the project leader Professor Ellen Bendt has already produced – supported by use of the MPU 1.6 circular knitting machine from Mayer & Cie.
The issues surrounding fleece are based on the knitting structure. After dyeing, the circular machine-knitted plush fabric is roughened and shorn which gives it more volume, but also means the garments quickly loses more fibres.
These fibres are so small that wastewater treatment plants may not be able to filter them out entirely and they may find their way into waterways and seas, or as sewage sludge onto fields. From there, it is possible the plastic works its way up the food chain.
Albstadt-based Mayer and Cie has supplied its MPU 1.6 model to project with the university using the machine to knit fabrics and then carry out washing and filtration tests as well as how best to optimise and develop textile surfaces that release smaller quantities of microplastics.
“Circular machine-knitted plush is the basis of fleece materials. That is why our experiments on low-emission alternatives start at this very point," said Professor Ellen Bendt.
The MPU 1.6 knits plush, velour, terry and fleece fabrics. "We wanted a German manufacturer who will be on site quickly if questions arise," said Bendt, "after all, talking about a standard application. We wanted to be sure that we are making full use of the opportunities available in the knitting sector.”
At present, conventional polyester spools are fitted on the MPU 1.6. Two sets of material have been tested so far with more to follow.
According to Bendt, the research is not aimed at discouraging the use of polyester although the team is looking into alternative fibre materials. “What we are after is a mass-market solution, and on price grounds alone the solution must continue to be or to include polyester," she said. "Whether that will be possible remains to be seen. Two years of research still lie ahead for the TextileMission project."
See the entire video (German only):
The University of Applied Sciences posted some behind the scenes images at