Britain's love of fast fashion is 'harming marine life'

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

Fabric fragments shed from cheap, disposable clothes, often during washing, are clogging the seas around Britain, scientists have warned.

The tiny microfibres may not be visible to the naked eye, but they are having a big impact on marine pollution.

Marine biologists have set up special nets designed to collect the half a million tonnes of textile fibres found in British waters every year to monitor the impact.

Now MPs are calling on some of the UK’s leading retailers to reduce the environmental footprint of fast fashion.

The tiny fragments as seen under the microscope. Credit: ITV News

Marine Biologist Richard Thompson told ITV News: "If you're talking about a dress at a price point of £5 it almost makes it a single use item, just the same as a single use coffee cup.

"Something that we’re using for a very short period, potentially, and yet it has a lot persistence as waste.“

Threads shed from cheap clothes are finding their way into our seas. Credit: ITV News

He added: “Laboratory evidence indicates that they have the potential to cause harm to marine life."

In light of this evidence, MPs are now investigating the environmental consequences of cheap clothes.

Following an Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on sustainability of the fashion industry, the committee's chair Mary Creagh told ITV News: “What we heard from the experts that gave evidence to us in our enquiry is that, frankly, if your dress costs a little bit more than a cup of coffee you're going to treat it in the same disposable way. “

This net collects fibres that are not visible to the human eye. Credit: ITV News

Andrew Opie from the British Retail Consortium said: "Responsible retailers are doing a fantastic job to bring us both value on the high street but also to look at the environmental and the ethical impact of the products that they're selling.”

In response to the findings, clothing retailers told ITV News that they acknowledge their responsibilities and that being affordable doesn't make clothes disposable.