Reducing Microplastics With Filters & Appliances
According to a report from the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Newcastle in Australia, it’s estimated that individuals consume microplastics equal to a credit card in plastic each week, which come from a variety of sources, including cleaning clothes in washing machines, which is the largest known source of microplastics.
Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, and The Netherlands have pushed for the European Union to implement regulations to reduce microplastics, while the United Nations Environment Assembly will set out to establish an international contract next year to end plastic pollution.
In the U.S., states like California and Oregon are considering their own regulations to decrease microplastic waste. Many of the new regulations and agreements are targeting washing machines.
According to Terry Moore, chairman of CleanR, asserts governments are responding to the threat washing machines present because washing machine wastewater accounts for 35% of microplastics pollution, with over half a million tons of microplastics entering the environment from wash cycles every year.
“A growing number of governments are on a path to requiring that new washing machines be sold with microplastic filters,” he said.
“France took the lead in 2020, passing a law that will require them beginning January 1, 2025.”
Cleaning synthetic textiles like fleece, lycra, nylon, and polyester shed microplastic fibers, which then find their way to the water system, leading towards bodies of water and oceans, followed by the food chain.
While long-term studies on microplastics and their effects on the human body are needed, some pretty nasty potential health risks can be attributed to microplastics, such as foreign particulates in the body that can turn into forms of cancers or cardiovascular illnesses. Additionally, because many plastics in makeup is toxic, they are known to be endocrine or hormonal disruptors.
Filters are a good enough option for now, although they are not 100% effective and can be challenging to configure to your washing machine.
There are aftermarket options for capturing microplastics generated by washing machines, like the Cora Ball, a sphere of stretchy plastic that is designed to be thrown in with the laundry and adhere to microfibers in the wash cycle and can capture about 30% of microplastics.
Other perhaps more effective filters are also being developed like Cleanr, which was presented at the IFA Berlin 2023 event and has a special design that complies with the upcoming French regulations, and it uses disposable pods that last for a week.
Washing machine manufacturers like Samsung and LG are dipping their toes into the world of microplastics with new offerings.
Samsung has introduced a Less Microfiber Filter and, additionally, partnered with Patagonia last year to create a Less Microfiber Cycle, which reduces abrasion and shedding.
While LG also introduced its own “microplastic care” cycle for LG ThinQ UP washers this year. The process uses a gentler motion and lower water temperatures to reduce the pollution from synthetics by up to 70%, according to LG. The cycle can also be added as a software update for compatible ThinQ UP washers.
As of now, microplastic filters and washing machines built to lower this specific type of pollution have yet to become the industry norm or be adopted by consumers, but it still is a new topic, and more awareness needs to be promoted on the dangers of microplastics.
Some states in the U.S., like New Jersey, have taken potentially offering rebates of up to $100 for consumers who buy an external microfiber filter, but the industry is still a far cry from adopting microplastic-friendly products, which is complicated due to the complex ways in which are the most effective to remove microplastics from the environment.
And “the variability between wash loads—volumes, textile and clothing types, additives like detergent, and different kinds of ‘dirt’ to be removed—make consistent, cost-effective standards very complex and time-consuming to establish,” says Cleanr’s Moore.
Still, there is hope now that countries and the United Nations Environment Assembly are prioritising microplastic regulations, and coverage of this topic continues to expand.