Extra filter in washing machines welcomed

Published: 22 January 2015

‘It is a good thing that a special filter is being developed to clean up water from washing machines before it enters the drain. A filter of this kind can remove microplastics released from synthetic clothing during washing from the water before it gets to the sea.’

70 per cent reduction in microplastics in waste water

This was the assessment given by Dick Vethaak, a specialist in microplastics at research institutes Deltares and IVM-VU University of Amsterdam, at the official launch of the European ‘Life+ Mermaids’ project on 22 January in Amsterdam. The project will be run by a consortium consisting of the research institutes CNR, Leitat, Polysistic, and the Plastic Soup Foundation. It will work on the development of a filter that can be installed in any washing machine, with the aim of reducing the amount of microplastics entering the sewage system in waste water by at least 70 per cent.

200,000 plastic fibres per wash

Dick Vethaak has been advocating a filter of this kind for some time now. ‘Research has shown that no fewer than 200,000 microplastic fibres can be released during a single wash, obviously depending on how synthetic the clothes are. Deltares, the Delft University of Technology and the VU University of Amsterdam have shown that wastewater treatment does not remove all of those fibres. That means that some of them reach the sea through the sewage system. Once that has happened, it is almost impossible to remove them from the water, even though they can inflict damage. That is why we need to emphasise preventive action, such as the development of this filter for washing machines.’

Onto our plates via the food chain

Ongoing research is required to establish a picture of the exact damage that microplastics in the sea can lead to, and the extent of that damage. Dick Vethaak: ‘They can, for example, get into the tissues of fish or shellfish when these animals swallow them. They then proceed up the food chain, and get onto our plates. They won’t make you ill straightaway, but further research is needed. These are, after all, chemical substances that are entering our bodies.’

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