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Swedish Water Association urges phasing out sportswear treated with silver

After washing sportswear treated with silver, the biocide ends op in the water cycle. Photo: Twitter.

Sportswear is treated with antibacterial silver in order to reduce odours. Because wastewater treatment plants are not able to treat this biocide, after washing the toxic silver ends up polluting lakes and seas. The Swedish Water and Wastewater Association Svenskt Vatten asked sportswear chains in a letter to phase out sales of all clothing treated with silver by 2021. Only Adidas refuses to stop using toxic silver.

At the end of October Svenskt Vatten published the report 'Silver Leaching', which contained new laboratory analyses of sportswear treated with silver. Among other things, these analyses demonstrated that a large part of the silver contained in clothing leaches out after only a few washes. After only 10 wash cycles in a washing machine, over 70% of the silver had leached out into the water. Svenskt Vatten is issuing new washing instructions for clothing containing silver. Sportswear such as socks and jumpers containing silver ought not to be washed in a standard washing machine. Instead they ought to be washed by hand. The water ought to be collected in a container used for that purpose alone, and then treated as environmentally hazardous waste.

Resistance to antibiotics
Antibacterial silver from treated textiles is the largest known source of silver in water treatment plants. In order for the water cycle to be sustainable in the long term, silver discharged to wastewater treatment plants must be reduced by half. Sportswear treated with silver pose a threat to our lakes and seas, as well as a risk for the spread of antimicrobial resistance. A study by Susanne Sütterlin, a researcher and specialist doctor in clinical microbiology at Uppsala University in Sweden, showed that silver seemed able to reduce the level of sensitivity/resistance to antibiotics.

Dialogue with retail chains
“Retailers have now a major opportunity to contribute to a better environment and healthier water by making a minor effort. We have a good deal of experience of this type of dialogue with retail chains and we know that many of them are generally willing to listen to what we have to say. It is now high time for them to remove all garments treated with silver, because water matters” says Anders Finnson, senior environmental advisor at Svenskt Vatten.