Fitting washing machines with filters can dramatically reduce the amount of tiny plastic fibres from synthetic clothing entering the marine environment, new research has revealed.
A study conducted at the University of Plymouth compared the efficiency of six different devices, ranging from prototypes to commercially available products.
The most successful reduced the amount of fibres released into wastewater by almost 80%, suggesting there is considerable potential for them to have environmental benefits.
Scientists washed three different synthetic fabric types (100% polyester, 100% acrylic, and a 60% polyester/40% cotton blend) to represent a typical mixed load.
They used a mesh to capture fibres entering wastewater, measuring 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 reducing it by 21%.
The University of Plymouth study showed normal wear and tear when wearing clothes is just as significant a source of microplastics as release from laundering, while a report produced for Defra in May 2020 highlighted that fitting filters to washing machines could be less effective than changing fabric designs to reduce fibre loss.
Writing in Science of the Total Environment, researchers from the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit said 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.
Research Fellow and National Geographic Explorer Dr Imogen Napper, 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.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.