Campaigners have called on the British government to make it a legal requirement that all new washing machines are fitted with microplastic filters.
In an open letter to environment secretary George Eustice, representatives from several leading organisations, including Keep Britain Tidy, Greenpeace UK and Surfers Against Sewage warn that more than 500,000 tonnes of microfibres are being released into the oceans every year, simply from washing clothes.
According to the letter, a washing machine can shed up to 700,000 microfibres into the environment with every wash.
But it adds that by fitting microfibre filters to machines, that figure could be cut by up to 90%.
The letter says France has “shown real leadership” as the first country in the world to take legislative steps in the fight against plastic microfibre pollution, with mandatory filters on washing machines to be introduced from 2025.
It adds if the British government were to back such a mandate than “the U.K. would join France at the front of the pack in tackling microplastic pollution”.
The South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to the British parliament which would require manufacturers to fit microplastic-catching filters to new domestic and commercial washing machines, and to raise awareness about the consequences of microplastics from washing machines for pollution in rivers and seas.
The proposed legislation is currently working its way through parliament.
Megan Corton Scott, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK said: “The fast fashion industry is driving the climate and ecological crisis. Microplastics are being found in the deep sea and in Arctic Sea ice, risking the health of these pristine ecosystems and the life that calls them home. Rapid action from government and industry is required to reverse the damage this is doing to nature and to our health.
“Three years ago, the environmental audit committee recommended that the government facilitate collaboration between fashion retailers, water companies and washing machine manufacturers and take a lead on solving the problem of microplastic pollution. The government can start by backing mandatory filtering in washing machines to help limit the flow of toxic plastic into our natural world.”
In March, home appliance manufacturer Grundig published a survey which revealed almost half (49%) of Brits were unaware that synthetic fibres shed through washing have become a leading source of plastic pollution in the oceans.
The survey also found that three quarters of people agreed that more awareness is needed of the hidden dangers of microfibres in the U.K’s waterways.
Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society said many people are really concerned about plastic getting into the ocean. However, she added many people are not aware of the connection between our laundry, and microplastics entering the ocean.
She added: “With research suggesting that it can take up to 1,000 years for microplastics to break down, stopping microfibres from going down the drain in the first place makes all the difference in slowing the flow of plastic into our ocean. New technologies that capture microfibres before they reach the marine environment can contribute greatly to reducing the amount of marine pollution by stopping it at source.”