United Kingdom

Devices can reduce microfibres released in laundry cycle by 80 per cent

Devices fitted to washing machines can prevent the vast majority of microplastic fibres shed from the laundry reaching the oceans, a study has found. 

University of Plymouth researchers compared six devices designed to catch microfibres, ranging from prototypes to commercially available products. 

The most successful reduced the amount of fibres released into waste water by almost 80 per cent, the research found.

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Pictured, some of the microscopic fibres captured by filters during the study into the effectiveness of laundry devices

Dr Imogen Napper, from Plymouth University's International Marine Litter Research Unit, 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.'

Campaigners have called for all washing machines in the UK to be fitted with such filters in the same way as France, which is mandating that microfiber filters must be fitted to all devices by 2025.  

But in May, a report produced for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) suggested that fitting filters to washing machines could be less effective than changing fabric designs to reduce fibre loss.

Pictured, Dr Imogen Napper analyses some of the microfibres captured in filters as part of the research

Research funded by the National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Rescue investigated how effective microfibre devices were. They tested each one by washing three different synthetic fabric types to represent a mixed load (pictured)

Microplastic particles are in drinking water, UN report finds 

Tiny particles of plastic carrying 'biofilms' that could contain disease causing bacteria and which may already be entering our guts have contaminated drinking water supplies around the world, a landmark UN report has warned.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled the most comprehensive review to date of the evidence of microplastics - tiny plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres (0.2 inches).

Microplastics have hit headlines over recent years, as they have been detected in marine water, wastewater, fresh water, food, air and drinking-water, both bottled and tap water.

Last year, WHO examined the potential human health impacts of exposure to microplastics through drinking-water.

The study also outlines areas for future research that could shed light on the scale of the problem and what we can do about it.

That includes finding out where most microplastic pollution is, where it is coming from, how it may impact human health and what can be done to stop more of these particles from entering our drinking water.

Some of the key findings include the revelation that larger microplastic particles, bigger than 150 micrometres, are likely to be passed out of our bodies without harm.

Smaller particles could potentially be absorbed into our organs, however.

It also suggests microplastics have the potential to both carry disease-causing bacteria and help bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Research funded by the National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Rescue investigated how effective microfibre devices were. 

They used a mesh to capture fibres entering wastewater and measured the mass of particles generated without filters, with three in-drum devices and three external filters.

The most effective device, the XFiltra external filter, reduced the quantity of microfibres being released by 78 per cent. 

Xeros, the company that makes this specific feature, is in talks with several manufacturers to fit the filter to the washing machines. 

It is believed the filter will add about £30 to the cost of a machine. 

A washing bag by Fourth Element was the least effective device in the study, reducing microfibres by 21 per cent, the study found.

Professor Richard Thompson, head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit, said: 'Too often, the quest for fast fashion and market pressures means that appropriate 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.

'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.'

The study has been welcomed by the Marine Conservation Society, which recently launched its own Stop Ocean Threads campaign.

Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the charity, said: 'This independent research shows clearly that washing machine fitted filters are the most effective method of preventing microfibre loss from washing clothes.

'We're urging people to sign our petition which will require the filters, by law, in all washing machines from 2024.

'Having all washing machines fitted with filters will make a huge impact on the volume of microfibres polluting our ocean from every wash.

'The clothes we have will continue to shed fibres now and in the many years to come, which means that we need to have filters fitted as well as improvements from the fashion industry.'

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