The issue of microfibres suddenly has the textiles apparel fashion industry in its throes. The subject itself, compared to pesticide use and efficient discharge, is relatively new, Subir Ghosh writes.

In the fashion industry, they warn you, every new day brings in a new set of problems/challenges. Some of these are new in nature, others are newly-discovered, so to speak. One of the latest, arguably the biggest of them all, is one that of microfibre contamination. The subject had been known for a while, but it is only now that the magnitude of the issue has become a topic of debate and, yes, a major concern.

The textiles-apparel-fashion industry has had the dubious honour of being the biggest polluter of the planet after oil, but much of these related to the indiscriminate use of dyes and pesticides, the reckless release of toxic effluents and the uncontrolled post-consumer piling up of textile waste. It has been only in the last one decade or so that a number of new laws have come into force the world over and new regulations put in place, and even as the industry has been struggling to shrug off the tag of being unfair in its social practices and starting to put a circular economy in place there comes a topic that had escaped scrutiny altogether-unmitigated contamination of what sustains life itself on the planet: the oceans.

The subject has been snowballing for the last one year, ever since photographer Justin Hofman's heart-wrenching image of a seahorse swimming with a discarded cotton swab added a new dimension to the issue of pollution in our oceans. It was one of those images that haunts you forever. It was in this backdrop came the finding in late July that only one-eighth of the world's oceans remain free of human impact. And given that two-thirds of the planet are seas and oceans, one cannot even begin to fathom how deep the rot lies, how widespread is the contamination wreaked by humans.

The reasons are innumerable-from rampant and unsustainable fishing to disposal of unfiltered waste into the waters by the shipping industry and from release of all kinds of wastes through the rivers into the seas to the havoc that beach tourism is wreaking on the oceans. Much of the marine pollution can be seen-either in the form of plastic materials extracted from dead whales that wash up ashore to the vast islands of plastics that stay afloat in mid-seas. And yet, there were many that invariably escaped the eye-microplastics. Much of these microplastics are microfibres-from textiles and apparel.

The blame game is afoot, and science is only beginning to lay things bare. Fingers are being pointed at all directions, and the textiles-apparel-fashion industry finds itself in the heart of another controversy. While it is easy to pass on the buck, in a circular economy, solutions would need to start at the source.