Silver Leaching: the green fabric byproduct that is killing the seas

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Christian Eidem, Chair of Life Materials, welcomed the recent report by the Swedish Water Board: “There is a growing demand for natural fabrics and that demand will continue to grow. But not all natural fabrics are the same.” Anders Finsson, the Senior Environmental Advisor of the Swedish Water & Wastewater Association (Svenskt Vatten), presented their findings at the recent Biocides conference in Vienna. The key finding in the report is that many so called green fabrics use metal, especially silver, to allow them to have less odour and therefore require fewer washes. Nanosilver is a pollutant, destroying the oceans as surely as single use plastic.

On 27 February Polyigene, the Swedish fabric producer of a range of products posted their results. Polyigene is a “green” fabric company whose strap line is wear more, wash less. They are in direct competition with companies like Life Materials and Sanitized, who use peppermint oil rather than silver to treat their fabrics.

In 2018 the Swedish water board published a report on Silver Leaching which was heavily critical of Polyigene for their use of silver. Finsson warns: “Silver is used in items such as sportswear because of its antibacterial properties. What many consumers do not know is that silver is classified as a biocide; that is to say, a toxin. In the long run, the silver found in the water cycle can pose a significant threat to the wealth of life in the sediments of our lakes and seas. Sediment-dwelling creatures and organisms play a crucial role in the biological networks created by nature.”

The silver leaches out during the washing of the clothes. The Swedish Water & Wastewater Association has “carried out washes in a laboratory setting and can demonstrate that leaching takes place in all silver treatments on sportswear. Between 31% and 90%, with a median value of 72% of the silver had leached out after 10 washes. The worst case was a pair of tights which had been treated with Polygiene and bought at www.fitnessbutiken.se, and contained only one tenth of the silver content after ten washes. The remainder – 90% – had leached into the wastewater.” The full report can be read here. Polygiene have vigorously contested the findings of the report.

Polyigene has been supplying Adidas for a number of years. Here, here and here.
The results to be announced on the 27th February are expected to show the negative impact of the silver leaching report on sales for polyigene except for one major European customer. Industry insiders are sure that will be Adidas. Adidas began their journey to be a sustainable brand in 2002. They take great pride in their image as a green company.

Adidas is “a founding member of Parley for the Oceans, a global network of creators, thinkers and leaders from brands, governments and environmental groups who come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction.”

Yet they are increasing their investment in a technology that the Swedish Water Board report says is responsible for silver leaching. There are obvious alternatives, for example Peppermint Oil produced by companies like Life Materials, as their Chair, Christian Eidem says: “Consumers needs to be careful: read the label before you buy.”