Women’s Institute supports the initiative and urges manufacturers to take action regarding plastic microfibres

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 inexpensive and can capture almost all the plastic microfibres from washing clothes made of artificial fabrics like nylon. However, there is no requirement in the UK that washing machines be fitted with these simple devices.

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The presence of plastic microfibres in waterways and oceans is widespread. Their impact on marine life remains largely unknown. They are also common in the bodies of people, including unborn babies’ placentas.

To highlight this issue, a new all-party parliamentary committee on microplastics was established. The Women’s Institute supported the publication of its first report, which it published on Tuesday. This group calls for new rules that require manufacturers to fit filters to washing machines sold in the UK for domestic and commercial use starting in 2025.

Ann Jones, chair of National Federation of Women’s Institutes stated: “Our research has shown that at least 9.4 tones microplastic fibers could be released each week in the UK by the washing process. Our rivers and oceans become more clogged with plastic waste every day. Although the scale of this problem is immense, the solutions to it are becoming increasingly accessible.

France already requires filters to be installed starting in 2023. The EU is currently considering similar rules.

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Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP, who created the group, stated that many washing machine makers and plastic producers were behind it. This is a cost-effective, sensible and reasonable measure. This [push by the new group] was key. Manufacturers agreed to join and it could be done at a low cost to consumers. Many have indicated that they will begin fitting them regardless of the legislation.

The issue of what to do with the filtered waste is another. It could be disposed in regular household waste and end up in landfill or subject to special waste collection or other disposal methods.

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. It is a good idea to wash artificial fibre clothes in a pillowcase. This allows for them to be washed, but also prevents some fibres from being released.

Because of microfibres in clothes, wastewater and sewage contain high levels microplastics. Because the UK has poor controls over the release of sewage into waters, sewage sludge can often be spread on land.

woman in white dress holding white plastic bag walking on beach during daytime

Although research is ongoing on the effects of microplastics on marine life, early signs suggest that this could be a serious 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 stated that the government was taking steps to address a range of sources of plastic pollution, such as microbeads and bags. He also said: “Manufacturers need to do their part by using the latest technology in order protect our marine environment. We will continue to monitor the mandatory fitting of microplastic filter.”

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