Sharing tech for a laundry filter that removes microplastics

29 September 2019

Recent research from scientists in the UK looked at how consumer washing-machine cycles affect the release of microplastic fibers from the laundry, concluding that the greater water volumes typical of a “delicate” setting on a standard low-water machine caused far more fibers to wash into our waterways.

At the same time, European appliance manufacturer Arçelik is working on a washing machine that may remedy much of the problem. The washing machine, expected to be on the market in 2020, is designed to capture millions of fibers in laundry loads at the source, and keep them from entering marine systems and ultimately our bodies.

“The company has developed the world’s first washing machine with a built-in synthetic microfiber filtration system,” it said in a press release. “The new technology will block 90 percent of microfibers from entering the water sources, with the filtration box located in the detergent drawer filtering the water before discharge.”

Arçelik, based in Turkey, announced the new machine earlier this month at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. What CEO Hakan Bulgurlu said during his keynote address also reflects a new direction in industry thinking that’s as innovative as machines that may make laundry chores more ecofriendly.

“What you call climate change today I call climate catastrophe,” said Bulgurlu, “because I don’t think you can change the planet like you can change a pair of jackets or shirt.” A few minutes later, he told his audience that in a crowd of 300 to 400, it’s likely some 60 percent were wearing synthetic fibers derived from oil. Millions of fibers are shed in the laundry, as numerous researchers have found, but governments and utilities often don’t have the technology to capture them.

For Arçelik, with a presence in more than 146 countries, that means an opportunity for impact. When the CEO unveiled the water-filtering washer at IFA, though, he had a surprise announcement for the competition: Instead of guarding its corporate secrets, Arçelik wants to share the washer technology and expertise to benefit humanity.

Bulgurlu said while many in the industry think the plastic microfibers are the textile sector’s problem or fast fashion’s issue to address, he doesn’t see it that way. “Guess what? If we are in a position to do something about it, we have to do something about it.”

So while acknowledging the significant investment in Arçelik’s own R&D – the company has 1,500 engineers and a 25-year record – Bulgurlu asked the appliance industry to join him and said the company was ready to share the tech with anyone who wants to use it.

“I invite and challenge our competition (to) use this innovation anyway they wish,” he said. Companies, universities and NGOs all are welcome to ensure the laundry filter becomes widely used across the globe.

“We must stop polluting the oceans now.”

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