Support MORE washing machine filters preventing microfibers polluting Ontario waterways

The results are in – a demonstrated solution that needs to be mass-scaled

Parry Sound Study

Most people wouldn't just throw plastics and other waste into the water knowingly. Unfortunately, we do so when we wash our clothes. In a washing machine cycle, our clothes shed up to hundreds of thousands of microfibers that go down the drain to wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), where many are caught, but billions get through to water bodies like Georgian Bay daily. Microfibers, anthropogenic fibers (< 5mm), are the most prevalent type of microplastic and other anthropogenic particle in the environment. The plastic, cotton, and other microfibers from our clothes and the chemicals they can contain - do not belong in the water, where they are continously being dumped. Studies have shown microfibre/plastic pollution is being found in the guts of many aquatic species, is travelling up the aquatic food chain, and that their physical and chemical properties can cause many species serious harm. While the impacts to humans are unknown, we are certianly consuming microfiber/plastic pollution at a rate of about a credit card a week.4 It can only keep getting worse unless action is taken. The Parry Sound Study shows that WASHING MACHINE FILTERS can catch and divert almost all the laundering microwaste from water bodies, but so few of us have them. Filters needs to be mass-implemented to help aquatic environments and water quality. (More study details here) READ on to see what you can do.

Difference making actions you can do to scale the washing machine filter solution.

1. Support Ontario Bill 102 to get filters on future washing machines

Your letters are critical to getting Ontario Private Member's Bill 102 (previously 279) passed that will require future washing machines to come with a microplastics/fiber filter. Click the link below to send a letter to your MPP.

2. Download and deploy a petition to get Bill 102 passed

Written and mailed in petitions get attention in the Ontario Legislature. If you face the public (e.g. bricks and mortor business, service business, organization, you have a party or an event), download and print out this petition. It needs at least one signature or more to be counted by the Ontario legislature. Don't forget to mail it in to the address provided.

3. Reduce your own microfiber/plastics waste

Microplastics microfiber Study

There are a number of ways you can reduce your own microfiber/microplastic emissions into the environment.

  • Consider buying a filter for your own washing machine. There are different filters on the market. The U of T Rochman lab tested 2 outside washing machine filters. The Microplastics Luv-R (sku EE002) from Lint Luv-R and the Wexco FIltrol 160, and found they were 87 to 89% effective at capturing microfibers. Both are available in Canada if you search online (if you buy outside of Canada, you will be subject to fees). Last time we looked they cost anywhere from $180 to around $220 BEFORE installment and shipping. For the Divert and Capture project, GBF installed the Filtrol 160 from Wexco into Parry Sound residences.It's also important for septics. Read why at this link.
    • Do you live in Collingwood? We need 100 more volunteer households to receive a FREE washing machine filter and participate in our Divert and Capture program. See if you qualify by clicking here.
    • Follow tips provided to reduce microplastic/fiber pollution. General tips include avoiding over consumption of clothing, decrease your laundering and using cold water, and minimizing one-use plastic like bags.
      - A PDF download on tips to reducing microfiber plastics from getting into the environment. Click here.
      - Check out this 10 tip video.

    4. Watch the 1-hr video webinar on microfiber/plastics pollution and scaling the washing machine filter solution

    Georgian Bay Forever hosted a 1-hr webinar on February 24th that provided an overview of the cause and impact of microplastics/fiber emissions into water, reviewed the results of the Parry Sound study that shows that washing machine filters are effective at staunching this pollution, and went over what YOU can do to support the mass-implementation of filters to washing machines.

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    About the Parry Sound Study and why it is important

    Filters on washing machines in a laboratory setting were found to capture more than 85% of fibers before they go down the drain. But they need mass adoption and evidence that they will work in the real world.
    Parry Sound study

    To address this, Georgian Bay Forever is proud to announce the publication of the research article, Washing machine filters reduce microfiber emissions: evidence from a community-scale pilot in Parry Sound, Ontario with its partners from the Rochman Laboratory at the University of Toronto. For this research, and as a part of to Georgian Bay Forever's Divert and Capture project, 97 filters (Model: 160 Filtrol from Wexco) were installed on Parry Sound household washing machines to demonstrate that filters implemented on a wider scale will reduce microfiber/plastic pollution emissions.

    March 22nd 2022 Media release about organizations supporting mass-scaling of filters (PDF Download)
    November 23rd 2021 Media release about the study (PDF Download)

    We partnered with Lisa Erdle, Dorsa Nouri Parto and Chelsea Rochman of the Rochman Laboratory at the University of Toronto to sample water from the effluent of the Parry Sound wastewater treatment plant and count microfiber/plastic pollution before installation of filters, and then after these filters were installed over about 2.5 year period.

    Microfibers (synthetic or natural fibers that are created and modified for products) come off your clothes during laundering. These tiny strands of (less than 5 mm) can be as high as 700,000 per wash load depending on the amount and the materials in the wash (Napper and Thompson)1. In the research paper Capturing microfibers - marketed technologies reduce microfiber emissions from washing machines2(McIIwraith et.al), 90,700 to 138,000 fibers are shed estimates based on washing one synthetic blanket. Some further 'downstream estimates' show some potentially very alarming emissions.

    "Most of these fibers will travel with wastewater to a WWTP to be treated. Studies suggest that 83–99.9% of microplastics are captured in the sludge of a WWTP (Carr et al., 2016; Dris et al., 2015; Talvitie et al., 2017), with the remaining emitted to the aquatic environment via final effluent. If 99% of the 23 to 36 trillion microfibers are captured in the sludge, then up to 234 to 356 billion could be released directly into lakes and rivers annually based on our data and calculations. If the sludge is land applied, some of the remaining ~23–35.5 trillion could also be released into the environment."3

    We needed to see if deploying filters outside of a lab and at higher-scale could make an important difference in pollution emissions to water bodies as therefore an important mitigating solution for Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, North America, and beyond.

    Scaling the solution to a Parry Sound Community

    According to the research Capturing microfibers – marketed technologies reduce microfiber emissions from washing machines 2( McIlwraith at. al), the Lint LUV-R (a filter similar to the FIltrol 160) captured 87% of micofibers in the wash by count.

    An important step - however - this technology's impact was not proven in a real-life situation, with many, many real families doing their laundry.

    Georgian Bay Forever (GBF)and the Rochman Lab at the University of Toronto started putting together a plan involving many funders and partners to recruit about 100 volunteer households in Parry Sound, collect samples, and to do measurements and analysis.
    Picture of a Filter on a washing machine stopping microfibre and microplastic pollution

    Could this technology work outside the lab, and on a more mass scale?

    YES. The results from the Parry Sound study showed a significant reduction in pollution.

    Read the full academically reviewed research article published in Frontiers in Marine Science as "Washing machine filters reduce microfiber emissions: evidence from a community-scale pilot in Parry Sound, Ontario". Find it here.

    Key Takeaways include:

    Demonstrated - Filters can catch a significant amount of microfiber/plastic pollution at source (i.e. the washing machine) before this pollution goes to wastewaster treatment plants.

    • "Lint samples from filters revealed an average weekly lint capture of 6.4 g, equivalent to 179,200 to 2,707,200 microfibers."
    • "The effluent samples collected before installing filters contained an average of 4.6 ± 1.6 microparticles per L (mean ± SD) of treated wastewater (Figure 4). This was significantly greater than the concentration of microparticles in samples collected after installing filters, which contained 1.9 ± 0.7 microfibers per L."
    • "We diverted at least 22.8 kg of lint over the course of our study, as measured by the 63% of households that provided samples. Based on the range of 28 to 423 microfibers per mg of lint, this equates to 639 million to 9.7 billion microfibers. If we extrapolate up to 97 households with washing machine filters, this would equate to roughly 1.2 to 18.2 billion microfibers over the course of our 487-day study."
    • "If we estimate for just one year, for the households in our study, we estimate we diverted 934 million to 14.1 billion microfibers from wastewater treatment plants annually. If we were to scale up to a large city like Toronto (1,179,057 households) or Los Angeles (3,316,795 households), and assume all households had washing machine filters, then the annual microfiber capture could be in the range of 12 to 166 trillion microfibers for Toronto or 30 to 468 trillion for the county of Los Angeles."

    Demonstrated - Filters led to a decline in pollution in the effluent (what goes out to water bodies after treatment).

    • "In addition to household capture of microfibers in laundry lint, we observed a significant decline in the number of microfibers in final effluent at the municipal WWTP. This directly equates to less microfibers entering Lake Huron via treated effluent. After installing washing machine filters, we observed a reduction in microfibers in final effluent by an average of 41%. This significant difference in microfiber count pre- and post- filter deployment suggests that adding filters to washing machines reduces microfiber emissions to water bodies via treated wastewater."
    • "We are, however, surprised at such a large decrease in microfibers, especially since filters were only installed in 10% of homes. A possible explanation for a more substantial decrease than what we expected could be related to behavioural change. Due to local recruiting efforts and awareness campaigns [as part of the Georgian Bay Forever Divert and Capture program] , microfiber awareness may have increased in this community, which could have indirect effects. For example, if awareness campaigns led to changes in washing habits (i.e., washing less, washing with cold cycles, using a washing bag), this could contribute to further microfiber emission reductions. To test whether applying filters in a community can lead to indirect reductions in microfiber emissions from modified laundering practices, future work could focus on whether community-wide pilots impact behaviour."

    Microfiber pollution from washing your clothes is synthetic AND is also plant-based (like cotton for example). Both are cause for concern.

    • "We found both natural and synthetic microfibers in wastewater samples, although natural anthropogenic microfibers were by far the most common material type. Even though research suggests that some types of fibers can degrade in the environment, others are more persistent (Bonanomi et al., 2020; Sørensen et al., 2021; Zambrano et al., 2019). In addition, there is a growing concern over synthetic and natural microfiber emissions due to additive chemicals (e.g., treatments and dyes; Lacasse and Baumann, 2004; Schellenberger et al., 2019; Xue et al., 2017), bioavailability to organisms (Athey et al., 2020; Gago et al., 2018), and toxicity (Kim et al., 2021; Mateos-Cárdenas et al., 2021)."

    Front loader washing machines better than top loaders in terms of limited shed of microfibers from clothing.

    • "Previous research shows that top loader washing machines shed more microfibers than front loading washing machines (Hartline et al., 2016), and our results support this finding. We found that filters from top loader washing machines captured 1.5x more lint per week than front loading washing machines. This is equivalent to an additional 70,000 to 1,057,500 microfibers per week, assuming top loading machines captured an average of 2.5g lint per household per week more than front loading machines and lint contains 28 to 423 microfibers/mg. This suggests that front loader machines result in the shedding of less fibers, and that top loading machines should receive filters first if efforts aim to retrofit existing washing machines with filters."

    Important results.

    Thank you Parry Sound volunteers for showing all of us what filters can do, and being passionate about reducing microfiber and microplastic pollution.

    GBF would like to thank these funders for their support of the Parry Sound Divert and Capture Project and this research.

    This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the federal Department of Environment and Climate Change. Ce projet a été realisé avec l’appui financier du gouvernement du Canada agissant par l’entremise du ministère fédéral de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique. The ECCC EcoAction Community Funding Program, Lush Handmade Cosmetics Ltd., Patagonia Environmental Grants Fund of Tides Foundation, RBC Foundation, Charles H. Ivey Foundation, J.P. Bickell Foundation, LeVan Family Foundation, Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation, and GBF Donors.

    The views expressed herein are solely those of Georgian Bay Forever.

    More information on Divert and Capture - the fight to keep microplastics out of our water, and other plastic mitigation projects at. Microplastics and Microfibres Impacts

    GBF wishes to acknowledge the support of these partners:
    The Rochman Laboratory at the University of Toronto
    The Diamond Environmental Research Group at the University of Toronto
    The Town of Parry Sound
    The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve
    The Ontario Ministry of the Environment , Conservation and Parks
    Fashion Takes Action
    and our many community volunteers!

    These partners are helping spread the word:
    The University of Toronto Trash Team
    The Township of The Archipelago
    The Township of Georgian Bay
    Georgian Bay Association
    The Severn Sound Environmental Association
    Blue Mountain Watershed Trust
    The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
    References:
    1Napper, Imogen E. and Thompson, Richard C. ""Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions" , Marine Pollution Bulletin ,Volume 112, Issues 1–2, 15 November 2016, Pages 39-45 retrieved from ScienceDirect at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X16307639
    2McIlwraith, Hayley K.; Lin, Jack; Erdle, Lisa M.; Mallos, Nicholas; Diamond, Miriam L.; Rochman, C.M " Capturing microfibers – marketed technologies reduce microfiber emissions from washing machines" , Marine Pollution Bulletin Volume 139, February 2019, Pages 40-45, retrieved from ScienceDirect at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X18308634?dgcid=author
    3McIlwraith, Hayley K.; Lin, Jack; Erdle, Lisa M.; Mallos, Nicholas; Diamond, Miriam L.; Rochman, C.M" Capturing microfibers – marketed technologies reduce microfiber emissions from washing machines" , Marine Pollution Bulletin Volume 139, February 2019, Page 44, retrieved from ScienceDirect at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X18308634?dgcid=author
    Lisa M. Erdle, Lisa M; Nouri Parto, Dorsa; Sweetnam, David; and Rochman, Chelsea. Washing machine filters reduce microfiber emissions: evidence from a community-scale pilot in Parry Sound, Ontario, Frontiers in Marina Science, Marine Pollution. 4No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion from Nature to People prepared by Dalberg, based on a study commissioned by WWF and carried out by University of Newcastle, Australia, suggests people are consuming about 2000 tiny pieces of plastic every week. That’s approximately 21 grams a month, just over 250 grams a year.https://www.newcastle.edu.au/newsroom/featured/plastic-ingestion-by-people-could-be-equating-to-a-credit-card-a-week

    Next Steps for Georgian Bay Forever

    Working with you and our partners to take these results to many more people and policy makers to make filters and education about microfiber pollution top of mind, and something that everyone can act on to stop.

    To understand more, please download this 2 page policy paper.