Fit washing machines with filters to reduce microplastic pollution, MPs say

Fit washing machines with filters to reduce microplastic pollution, MPs say

Fit washing machines with filters to reduce microplastic pollution, MPs say

Women’s Institute supports initiative, urging manufacturers to take action on plastic microfibres

Clothes in a washing machine

Environment correspondent

Last modified on Tue 21 Sep 2021 03.37 EDT

Washing machines should be fitted with filters to prevent microplastic fibres from clothes reaching waterways and the sea, the Women’s Institute, campaigners and MPs have urged.

Filters are cheap and can catch almost all of the plastic microfibres produced from washing clothes made from artificial fabrics such as nylon, but there is no obligation in the UK for washing machines to be fitted with the simple devices.

Plastic microfibres are widespread in waterways and the oceans, where their impact on marine life is still largely unknown, and are commonly found in people’s bodies, including the placentas of unborn babies.

A new all-party parliamentary group on microplastics has been set up to highlight the issue. It published its first report on Tuesday urging ministers to take action, with support from the Women’s Institute. The group is calling for new rules requiring manufacturers to fit the filters to all washing machines sold in the UK, for commercial and domestic use, from 2025; for textile makers to have to assume responsibility for the waste their products generate from 2023; and for the government to appoint a minister of plastic pollution.

Ann Jones, chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “Our own research found at least 9.4tn microplastic fibres could be released every week in the UK through the washing process. With every day that passes, our rivers and seas are becoming more choked with plastic waste. The scale of the problem is huge, but the solutions are increasingly close at hand.”

France has already introduced the requirement for filters to be fitted, from 2023, and the EU is considering similar rules.

Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP who set up the group, said many washing machine manufacturers and plastic producers were also behind the proposals. “This is a sensible, reasonable and cost-effective measure. The key to this [push from the new group] was getting manufacturers on board, and they agree this can be done with little expense to consumers. Some have already indicated they will start fitting them, regardless of legislation.”

A further issue still to be resolved is what happens to the filtered waste, which could be disposed of in general household waste to find its way into landfill, or could be subject to special waste collections or other forms of disposal.

A single wash can release thousands of pieces of microplastic, and – counterintuitively – the delicate wash cycle available on many washing machines can result in even more being released than standard cycles. People are advised to wash clothes made of artificial fibres inside a pillowcase where possible, as this allows them to be cleaned but can prevent some of the fibres being released.

Sewage and wastewater contain high levels of microplastics, in part because of microfibres from clothes. The sewage sludge is often spread on agricultural land where it can be released into the water or air, or sometimes into rivers as the UK’s controls on the release of sewage into waterways are poor.

Research on the impacts of microplastic on marine life is ongoing, but early indications are that it could represent a widespread problem. Larger pieces of plastic can choke fish and sea mammals and birds, lodge in their guts or entangle them, but microplastics may cause more subtle forms of harm.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government was taking action on a variety of sources of plastic pollution, including microbeads and plastic bags, and said: “Manufacturers should do their bit by harnessing the latest technology to protect our marine environment. We are keeping the compulsory fitting of microplastic filters under close review.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *