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Nature mag: Finland's most useless product of the year is fleece fabric

The most unnecessary product of 2017 is polyester fleece fabric, due to the microplastic waste that it causes, according to Finland's leading nature magazine Suomen Luonto.

Vaatteita naulakossa.
File photo. Image: Katja Oittinen / Yle

The soft qualities of polyester fleece fabrics often make clothing and other textiles created from them a favourite holiday gift; perhaps even particularly so in colder climates like Finland.

But the cosy qualities of fleece — often marketed as polar fleece — belie the dangers of the material's components: microplastics, according to nature publication Suomen Luonto (Nature of Finland).

Suomen Luonto is Finland’s largest nature magazine and published by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

Fleece fabric was chosen as the year's most unnecessary product out of some 400 other products suggested by readers of the magazine.

Suomen Luonto writes that they chose polyester fleece in order to raise public awareness about the fact that synthetic materials shed microplastics into the environment when they're washed.

According to the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), every time a single polyester fleece jacket goes into the wash, it can shed up to 200,000 pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimetres in size.

Despite the crowning of fleece as the year's most useless product, SYKE's unit chief Markus Sillanpää says that there are worse culprits when it comes to microplastics.

Fibres shed in the wash

"Even more plastic comes off of soft-shell textiles and sportswear, so fleece isn't even the worst type of polyester fabric," Sillanpää says.

It is estimated that every year some 154,000 kilograms of microplastics are dumped into Finnish waterworks systems as synthetic fibre textiles are washed.

Most of those microplastics get collected at water treatment plants, but about one percent of them end up in waterways.

The microplastics collected at treatment plants end up being transported with other waste sludge and is dumped in fields or repurposed for use in landscape architecture.

In recent years researchers around the world have been raising the topic of the impact of microplastics in the environment, and more recently, in tap water and drinking water wells.

According to an article earlier this year in the UK's Guardian newspaper, tapwater is broadly contaminated with plastic particulate in areas around the globe.

It is estimated that globally, billions of kilograms of microplastic and fibre waste end up in the environment.

Suomen Luonto has carried out its annual assessments of most useless products for the past 18 years.

The publication's previous most-useless products include the humble plastic shopping bag in 2016, perfumed trash bags in 2013 and battery-operated, touch-less soap dispensers for the home in 2012.

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