First Sentier MUFG Sustainable Investment Institute publishes research on microfibre pollution causes, effects and required interventions

by | Jan 20, 2022

The First Sentier MUFG Sustainable Investment Institute, a joint venture initiative between First Sentier Investors and Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation, has published new research on the growing issue of microfibre pollution.

Microfibres are tiny particles shedded from textiles and clothing that are released into wastewater and the air, much of which ultimately reach the world’s oceans. An estimated 5.6 million metric tonnes – equivalent to the approximate weight of the world’s population of humpback and blue whales combined – of synthetic microfibres were already in the environment by 2015. A further 0.5-4.3 million metric tonnes of synthetic and natural microfibres could be entering the environment each year. Since global textile production and consumption is likely to continue to expand, annual microfibre release – if left unaddressed – could increase by 54% by 2030.

The institute’s latest paper, Microfibres: the invisible pollution from textiles, looks at the sources and scale of microfibre pollution, its pathways into the environment, and how its accumulation can affect the environment and human health. Their microscopic size means microfibres can be easily ingested by even the smallest of organisms, which has been found to cause serious damage in small marine organisms at the foundation of the food chain. When microfibres are ingested and move up the food chain, they can eventually contaminate human food. The report also outlines actions that policymakers, textile and clothing manufacturers, retailers, and investors can take to address microfibre pollution.

Velina Karadzhova, head of the First Sentier MUFG Sustainable Investment Institute, said: “Although microfibres are already prevalent in our air, land and sea, interventions can be taken along a product’s life cycle to address microfibre pollution. Our aim with this research is to highlight this important issue and outline specific policy, industry and engagement actions that should be taken to prevent microfibres from entering the environment in the first place – the most efficient method of addressing the problem.”

This report builds on the institute’s inaugural report on the wider issue of microplastic pollution and its effect on environmental and human health. Synthetic microfibres are the largest proportion – an estimated 35% – of microplastics pollution that reaches the ocean annually. The microplastics study outlined regulatory, behavioural and operational actions that should be taken to remove this pollution and stop more from entering the environment.

First Sentier and MUFG jointly launched the institute in May 2021 to help increase understanding of how investment behaviour and decisions can contribute to better outcomes for the environment and society. The institute will develop and publish macro-level research on emerging sustainability and sustainable investment topics that have yet to receive the attention needed to achieve large-scale change. Since sustainability factors increasingly affect the performance of companies, sectors, and economies, the aim of the research is to enhance awareness of sustainable investment, report on trends and best practice, and promote a greater understanding of how such issues can affect long-term investment performance.

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