Washing machine device may help prevent microfibres entering oceans

Researchers at the University of Plymouth compared the efficiency of six different devices and found the most successful reduced the amount of fibres released into wastewater by almost 80%.

Research has found that using fibre-catching devices as part of the laundry process can dramatically reduce the amount of microscopic particles potentially entering the marine environment.

The study conducted by the University of Plymouth and funded by the National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Rescue compared the efficiency of six different devices, ranging from prototypes to commercially available products.

It found that the most successful device reduced the amount of fibres released into wastewater by almost 80%, suggesting there is considerable potential for them to have environmental benefits.

Previous research found that up to 700,000 microfibres can be flushed into the drain from a single load of synthetic clothing.

Back in February, France introduced a law that will make microfibre filters compulsory in all washing machines from 2025.

However, writing in Science of the Total Environment, researchers from the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit have stressed that the devices will only ever be part of any solution.

recent study at the University showed normal wear and tear when wearing clothes is just as significant a source of microplastics as release from laundering.

The authors say there is an ongoing need for scientists to collaborate with industry and policy makers to ensure improvements are made right from the design phase through to how clothes are washed.

The study found that the most successful fibre-catching device reduced the amount of fibres released into wastewater by almost 80%. (Ekaterina Belinskaya, Unsplash)

Research Fellow and National Geographic Explorer Dr Imogen Napper, a Sky Ocean Rescue Scholar and the study’s lead author, said: “Fibres from clothing are among the key sources of microplastics, and companies are inventing ways which claim to reduce the amount of fibres which enter wastewater.

“We wanted to see how effective they were both in catching fibres, but also stopping clothes from shedding them in the first place. Our results show there is a huge variety between the devices available, with some significantly reducing the number of fibres released.”

Scientists washed three different synthetic fabric types (100% polyester, 100% acrylic, and a 60% polyester/40% cotton blend) to represent a typical mixed load.

Using a mesh to capture fibres entering wastewater, they measured the mass of particles generated without filters and then with three in-drum devices and three external washing machine filters.

The results showed the most effective device reduced the quantity of microfibres being released by 78%, while the least effective analysed in this particular study reduced it by 21%.

However, a report produced for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs back in May found that fitting filters to washing machines could be less effective than changing fabric designs to reduce fibre loss.

Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit, and a co- author on the study, said that the “quest for fast fashion” has meant that “environmental considerations are being sacrificed”.

“If we are to achieve widespread and lasting change, it is essential for scientists to provide the independent evidence that demonstrates the scale of the problem as well as any potential solutions,” he said.

“Some of the devices we tested can undoubtedly reduce the fibres generated through the laundry process, but perhaps the most overarching change would be to design garments to last longer and shed less fibres in the first place.”

You can read more about the study on University of Plymouth’s website.

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