Plastic pollution in our marine environment is taking place on a staggering scale … the widespread contamination of our oceans is fast becoming a worldwide human health risk as plastic enters our food and water supplies
Executive Director, UN Environment Program former Director General, International Union for Conservation of Nature
The advent of polymer-based synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester has transformed fashion and revolutionised garment production with more than 60% of the clothes we buy today containing them. When we wash our clothes at home tiny fragments break off in the washing machine and are released unseen, with the wastewater, into rivers and oceans. Collectively the tiny synthetic fibres represent a major source of microplastic pollution in our oceans, equivalent in volume to every person on the planet throwing 15 plastic shopping bags into the sea every year.
In collaboration with the UK’s Marine Conservation Society, we are leading a program to engage with the manufacturers of domestic and commercial washing machines to fit filtration technology to their products, as a standard feature, that prevent plastic microfibres entering the world’s marine ecosystems. This technology is available today, but is not widely used by the industry.
Globally more than 840 million domestic washing machines are in use, with one kilogram of washing able to release up to 1.5 million fibres4. Across the UK, for example, 9.4 trillion fibres could be released in one week alone5. With the advent of technological solutions to fit filters in washing machines, there are now solutions to prevent this serious pollution risk. However, adoption is slow, and we have identified a need to apply group pressure to manufacturers with the objective of encouraging commitments to fit filter technology as a standard feature.