Feb 19, 2023
by James Roberts
Polartec Is Taking on Microplastics One Microfiber at a Time
by James Roberts
Feb 19, 2023

Oh, microplastics. They turn up absolutely everywhere. We were all shocked by the news that we swallow on average a credit card’s amount of plastics per week, which equates to 50 plastic bags a year. More recently, the worry is that microplastics are polluting the atmosphere, affecting the climate, weather and the air we breathe. Gulp.

The source of many of these tiny particles is clothing. Fibers, which are let loose during washing, set off a new life damaging our waterways, oceans and environments. Polartec, the textile manufacturer known best for its fleece materials, has designed a solution to reduce the amount of fragments shed during washing. It’s called Polartec Shed Less Fleece – because there’s no better name than one that describes exactly what the product does.

Polartec claims that it reduces textile fiber fragment shedding by an average of 85 percent. When tested in rigorous laundry cycles using detergent, the fleece lost an average of 0.0073 percent of its original weight. Miniscule. But then, we are talking about microparticles.

To achieve this reduction, the fleece fibers are designed to resist breaking and rubbing, using a combination of yarn construction, knitting, chemistry, and manufacturing methods. In the 200 Series Fleece, the first product that will be available to brands to use, Polartec is using recycled plastic bottles. Polartec promises that this new fabric will provide all the warmth, comfort, breathability and durability of the original.

Polartec is also looking at solutions to reduce textile loss at its processing plants. It has installed new customized vacuum and filtering systems which hoover up stray fibers on machinery and surfaces. These fibers are then upcycled to reuse in other products such as Polartec Power Air.

“While performance fabrics contribute a small percentage of the fibers fragments shed by the global textile industry, Polartec has been researching root causes and mitigation strategies for many years,” said Dr. Ramesh Kesh, senior vice president, Milliken & Company (the parent company to Polartec). “Shed Less Fleece is a natural progression of this curiosity toward our goal of reducing fiber fragment shedding to near zero in all our performance fabrics.”

But of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that Polartec is producing materials made from plastics (recycled or not) that will inevitably contribute to microplastic levels in the environment. As a brand that’s been supplying the outdoor community with fleece for 30 years, Polartec’s fabrics are on thousands of products, from the likes of The North Face and Arc’teryx to Palace, Supreme and Moncler. All of these get washed, and all of them shed microfibers.

Last year we reported on Patagonia’s unlikely partnership with Samsung to prevent microplastics from fleeces entering the ocean. Samsung’s new washing machines use technology that filters out tiny particles of plastic, while Patagonia is looking for ways to replace the non-degradable polyesters and polyurethanes.

A complete removal of plastic-based fibers is probably the ideal end goal for a brand like Polartec. Its synthetic yarns in the 80s gave outdoorsy people a product with resiliency, lightweight warmth and a fast dry time. It was a game changer. And now, it could change the game once more.

Polartec Shed Less Fleece will launch in the U.S. first, and will be available in customer products from March 1. Check out the Polartec website for more. For more textile-saving ideas, check out PANGAIA’s denim jacket made from cotton waste.

Image: Ron Lach