TORONTO -- Scientists in the U.K. are using London Fashion Week to highlight a lesser-known source of marine pollution -- microplastics found in the fibres of clothing.

Known as "microfibres," these tiny bits of plastic less than five millimetres in length are commonly found in “fast fashion,” and in fabrics such as polyester and acrylic.

The fashion industry contributes about 20 per cent of wastewater and 10 per cent of carbon emissions globally, according to the UN.

“Well, it can be quite surprising to know that a majority of the clothes that we wear and that we buy are made out of plastic,” said researcher Imogen Napper at the University of Plymouth to CTV News.

Vancouver-based marine conservation organization Ocean Wise released a report in October 2019 that estimated U.S. and Canadian households released more than 870 tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean annually from laundry alone --- the equivalent weight of ten blue whales.

U.K. researchers have been investigating what occurs when different textiles are laundered and measuring their breakdown when released into water systems.

“We found that for a typical clothes wash, up to 700,000 fibres could come off our clothes,” said Napper. 

Research has found that microfibres have been adding to overall microplastics pollution and accumulating in the food chain.

“With the microplastics, with the smaller pieces, we know from laboratory studies that there’s the potential for those small pieces to cause harm,” said marine biologist Richard Thompson. 

The same concerns are echoed in Ocean Wise's report, which highlights that microplastics and microfibres are mistaken for food by marine life and can work their way up the food chain – potentially causing health issues for human consumers.