Introducing our five iRon Maidens;

 Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle

Who stand here to raise awareness for the ways in which we can all make a real difference to the impact on the environment by changing how we buy, launder and dispose of our clothing.

             #END THE PLASTIC SOUP.


Collect your Wear Well/Wash Well leaflet from TAAG

For further information please see

The National Federation of WI’s (NFWI)

End the Plastic Soup campaign

The NFWI In a Spin report.





In a Spin: How our laundry is contributing to plastic pollution is part of the WI’s End Plastic Soup campaign. The End Plastic Soup campaign builds on the NFWI’s Fast Fashion and Climate Change campaigns. The NFWI is concerned with the fashion industry’s linear model, one where clothing is made, used and then disposed of.  All these campaigns aim to help build understanding about the environmental impact of our clothes purchasing and washing habits, and call for the development of solutions to reduce the amount of microplastic fibres entering the oceans and wider environment.




Introducing our five iRon Maidens namely,  Daziree, Ariella, Persilla, Peggy and Leonora.

Each Maiden has been Reborn from Repurposed ironing boards, Reused washing machine parts and Recycled laundry items and individually they stand to represent 1 of the 5 R’s

 Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle

We created them to raise awareness for the ways in which we can all make a real difference to the impact on the environment by changing the ways we buy, launder and dispose of our clothing.

Our dream is to take action to protect the planet.

Join the team to reach the dream and, together Let’s End Plastic Soup.


           Microplastic fibres are shed from synthetic clothing when laundered. These particles are smaller than 5mm and are shed every time anything synthetic is washed. Due to their size, they are too small to be caught by washing machine filters and end up in the sewage system where they either remain in sewage sludge or are released into the marine environment. One study estimated that over 90% of microplastics are retained in sewage sludge which is then applied to farmland as fertilizer.  Microplastics cause particular concern because smaller pieces of plastic are more likely to be eaten by wildlife and have a greater surface area which can transfer chemicals to and from the marine environment. In our oceans, over 280 marine species have been found to eat or inhale them, including many with important roles in food chains. Other studies have found microplastics present in seafood sold for human consumption, meaning these fibres may also be entering the human food chain, the long-term effects of which are unknown.  Microplastic fibres are hard to mitigate for, as wearing and washing clothing is integral to our day-to-day lives and there is no one simple solution. The NFWI is not calling for a ban on synthetic clothing, nor a complete switch to natural fibres, as these carry their own environmental impacts. Instead we are calling for individual consumers to change their clothes buying and laundering habits, and for more research to understand the long-term impact microplastic fibres have on the environment. We would like to see industry developing innovations in design and technology to minimise the amount of microplastic fibres entering the environment.


Nearly 1,500 WI members and non-members completed an online survey about their washing habits and how they purchase and dispose of clothing. While previous consumer research has focused on disposal routes for clothes and the amount of clothing that is wasted, there is little data on day-to-day washing habits and the types of fibres people are washing on a regular basis. The In a Spin report aims to build a clearer understanding about the amount of synthetic clothing that is regularly washed and the potential scale of microplastic fibre release.


Many of our clothes have at least a small proportion of plastic fibres which give them stretch, durability and other useful properties. The huge growth in demand for affordable clothing, combined with advancements in technical sports and outdoor-wear, has resulted in an increase in the number of clothes in our wardrobes which have high proportions of synthetic fibres.


The NFWI survey highlights that nearly half of respondents’ most washed items contained more than 30% synthetic fibres and that households are doing 2.5 loads of washing per week, or the equivalent to 68 million loads of washing nationally. This indicates that at least 9.4 trillion microplastic fibres could be released per week in the UK. While this is a worst-case scenario, it highlights that the potential number of fibres being released is significant. The figure is alarming, and demands that retailers need to recognise this as an urgent issue and ensure that microplastic fibres are part of their sustainability agendas.


Research from the Sustainable Consumption Institute found that UK households were washing their clothes after one or two wears as they considered this to be the norm, rather than washing items when they were ‘dirty’. The NFWI produced a Wash and Wear Well checklist which outlines small ways members can make a difference in their own homes:




  • wash less: only wash clothes when they need it;
  • fill up the washing machine: washing a full load results in less friction between the clothes and, therefore, less fibres are released;
  • use washing liquid instead of powder: the scrub function of the grains of powder result in loosening the fibres more than with liquid;
  • wash at a lower temperature: when clothes are washed at high temperatures some fabrics release more fibres;
  • when cleaning the dryer, do not flush the lint down the drain, throw it in the bib;
  • avoid longer washing cycles: long periods of washing cause more friction between fabrics;
  • avoid using detergents with a high ph and oxidising agents.




  • shop smarter and buy less;
  • be choosy;
  • does it fit well?
  • does it go with the rest of your wardrobe?
  • is it well made?
  • will it wash and wear well?
  • from what fabric is it made?


The survey found that nearly 90% of respondents purchase up to 40 items of clothing each year.  Changing purchasing habits can be hard as consumers get a short-term buzz from buying a new item of clothing. The NFWI would like to see consumers buying less new clothing in the first place and ensure the item is long lasting. In addition, we are encouraged to repair any breaks and tears, to extend the life of garments and reduce the environmental costs that come with buying a new garment.


Inevitably some clothing will need to be disposed of at some point, for example if clothes no longer fit, however the volume of disposed clothing could be reduced if more people adopt the Make Do and Mend approach and ensure that clothing is seen as something of value.


Almost half a million households send most of their unwanted clothing to landfill. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that every second, the equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is landfilled or burned, and the demand for clothing has shown no sign of slowing down, with clothing production roughly doubling in the last 15 years.


The sheer volume of clothing that is produced and purchased and barely worn or recycled illustrates how clothing is underutilised and undervalued, resulting in a huge amount of waste.  And where do unwanted items of clothing end up? While the majority of respondents who dispose of clothes each year are passing their unwanted clothes to charity shops, 35.6% indicated that none of their wardrobe comes from second-hand sources. 1.74% of respondents reported that their household’s unwanted clothes mostly go to landfill, which appears low in comparison to 90% giving to charity shops, but scaling 1.74% to the number of households in the UK equates to 473,000 households sending most of their clothes to landfill. This will be an underestimate, as the households that don’t send “most” of their clothes will almost certainly be sending some. Not only that, but a 2017 Sainsbury’s study found there is a gender bias in the number of clothes sent to landfill with results indicating that men are more likely to bin their clothes and most respondents to this survey were women (88.4% were WI members). The same Sainsbury’s research predicted a much higher figure of 235 million items heading to landfill, with WRAP’s research predicting 300,000 tonnes of clothing ending up in landfill in 2016.The NFWI would like to see consumers buying more from second-hand sources rather than buying brand new items and thinking of creative ways to re-invent and/or re-distribute clothing to ensure they are kept in circulation rather than sent to landfill.


The survey also asked respondents what actions should be taken to reduce microplastic fibre pollution at a national level. The most popular options for reducing microplastic fibre release were:


  • requiring clothing manufacturers to redesign textiles to make them less polluting;
  • increased monitoring of microfibres during water treatment;
  • the development of washing machine filters by manufacturers;
  • and further research into the impact of different fabrics on the environment.


The least popular options were legislative action from the government and consumers taking responsibility through changing their behaviour.


These results reflect the NFWI’s view that while consumers can take small steps to help mitigate the release of fibres, concrete action needs to take place further up the chain to achieve real change. We also agree that, at this stage, legislation is not the answer; more research is needed on the long-term impacts and quantification of the issue.


It is clear that the issue of microplastic fibres involves a wide range of stakeholders, from the water companies to fashion brands and washing machine manufacturers, to the individual consumer. The NFWI believes that all stakeholders must work together and recognise that each has a role to play. However, ultimately, the NFWI believes that the responsibility lies at source, meaning that clothing producers and retailers need to acknowledge the role they are playing in polluting the environment and work towards reducing the amount of fibres emitted.


The NFWI is pleased to see industry efforts to research and gain a better understanding of the complex issue of microplastic fibre release. For example, the Microfibre Consortium, was set up by the European Outdoor Group and includes brands such as M & S and ASOS, in response to a growing need for industry action to develop solutions.  In addition, a Cross Industry Agreement, endorsed by the European Commission, was created in January 2018 and includes the European Textile and Apparel Confederation (EURATEX), the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (A.I.S.E.), the European Outdoor Group (EOG), the European Man-Made Fibres Association (CIRFS) and the Federation of European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI). All of these industry stakeholders have agreed to work together to combat the release of microplastic fibres in the marine environment.  


The NFWI realises that the issue is multi-faceted. Washing machines carry the fibres into waste water treatment centres where they are released into the environment. Therefore, the NFWI is particularly interested in the development of washing machine filters and whether they can be part of the solution. While there are concerns about the practical difficulties and financial costs in introducing a type of filtration at waste water treatment level, the NFWI believes it would be helpful to understand the scale of fibre release through monitoring at waste water treatment centres and the impact of these fibres being retained in sewage sludge for agriculture.


To achieve change, we must take the debate through the entire journey, from the production of clothing all the way through to the release of the fibres at waste water treatment centres, with all concerned parties working together.


Raising awareness amongst consumers is an important step to ensure that they understand the potential impact their purchasing choices and behaviour have on the environment. The NFWI’s End Plastic Soup campaign is educating WI members and the wider public about the issue of microplastic fibres and suggesting individual actions that can help to reduce the amount of microplastic fibres entering the ocean. Using the NFWI’s Wash and Wear Well checklist, individuals have been making small changes to their washing habits which can also have a big impact in terms of saving on water and energy use.


The NFWI also believes it is important for people to buy fewer clothes in the first place, and buy second-hand as much as possible. Research by the charity TRAID found that 23% of Londoner’s clothes are unworn, the equivalent of 123 million items.15 The NFWI is encouraging people to upcycle, re-use and recycle their unused clothes to extract the maximum value and asking WI members to use their crafting skills to hold awareness events and teach their communities about what to do with damaged or unwanted clothing, reviving the ‘Make Do and Mend’ approach.


With regards to microplastic fibres, the development of capture products such as the Guppy Friend and the Cora Ball has played a positive role in allowing concerned consumers to make changes in their own lives, and to raise awareness of the problem. However, we believe more research is needed to fully understand their success rate and practicality. In addition, it is important to ensure correct disposal of the fibres.


As emphasised in our survey results, the onus cannot solely be on consumers taking responsibility through behaviour change. The majority of consumers are unaware of what microplastic fibres are and there is a lack of consumer choice when it comes to purchasing less polluting clothing. While consumers play an important role through raising awareness of the issue, making lifestyle changes and putting pressure on industry, for substantial change to occur it is necessary for industry, NGOs, academia and government to come together to seek solutions.


Retailers need to recognise the role their businesses play in polluting the environment and take action as part of their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. They need to educate their suppliers, manufacturers and colleagues on the issue of microplastic fibres, as well as join current industry efforts to ensure that tackling the problem is part of their sustainability agendas. Retailers should improve messaging to consumers about the importance of repairing, re-using and upcycling garments, as well as offering repair and recycling services to consumers, for example by rewarding customers who return unwanted items in store.


Ideally solutions need to come from the source of the pollution and the NFWI hopes that further research would inform textile and clothing manufacturers about changes that can be made to reduce fibre release. The NFWI would like to see more research into the development of washing machine filters, as filtration at household level could make a positive contribution to the reduction in fibre release, however the method of disposal of these fibres should be carefully considered.


WI members are dedicated to limiting their own environmental footprints, and taking action to protect the planet. We have committed to reducing the amount of microplastic fibre emissions through making small changes in the way that we wash, buy and dispose of clothes. Our five Iron Maidens – REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPURPOSE, and RECYCLE – represent the strategies we intend to adopt to begin to make a real difference.