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Microplastic Filters (Washing Machines)

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2021

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require manufacturers to fit microplastic-catching filters to new domestic and commercial washing machines; to make provision about the promotion of the use of microplastic-catching filters in washing machines and raising awareness about the consequences of microplastics from washing machines for pollution in rivers and seas; and for connected purposes.

I thank colleagues who have co-sponsored my Bill and all colleagues across the House who have given their support on this issue. We do not often think about plastic pollution when we wash our clothes. However, all our clothes and garments shed what are known as microfibre plastics. Microfibre plastic pollution is one of the most pervasive and preventable forms of microplastic pollution, with 35% of total microplastics released into the environment being shed from clothing. ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” and the University of Portsmouth recently carried out an investigation that found a large amount of airborne microplastics in our homes. It is estimated that we are breathing in between 2,000 and 7,000 microplastics a day—just think about it. But we can do something now for those microfibres we release through washing machine cycles. Microfibre plastics are tiny fibres that can shed from our clothes during the wash cycle. Due to their tiny size, they are too small to be caught by existing washing machines and can end up in the wastewater system, where they are caught, or remain in sewage sludge, which can be spread on to our growing crops, or are released into rivers and marine environments. Research by the University of Plymouth has found that one wash cycle can release up to 700,000 microfibres into our wastewater system—that is 700,000 in every wash cycle.

Microplastics can then escape from the wastewater treatment works, polluting our rivers and seas. These microplastics, which can contain chemicals, can be ingested by fish and other small aquatic creatures and travel up the food chain, and we then enjoy them on our plate when we eat our fish fingers or other aquatic produce. We are ingesting these microfibre plastics. Research led by the University of Manchester has found that the River Tame in Greater Manchester contains such enormous levels of microplastics that it is one of the most polluted waterway systems in the world. Investigators found 517,000 plastic particles per square metre of sediment. That figure is extremely concerning for all of us, the environment and aquatic life.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on microplastics, I have been working with that favourite civil society stakeholder, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. It is a wonderful organisation that has long campaigned on this issue through its “End Plastic Soup” campaign. Many of us will remember just a few years ago, when it came to Portcullis House and demonstrated in a bowl of water what microfibre plastic pollution looks like.

The all-party parliamentary group has also worked with a range of stakeholders including academics, environmental groups and, most importantly, global washing machine manufacturers. The group’s report, published in September 2021, put forward a series of important holistic recommendations, with the support of the Women’s Institute and stakeholders, on what policies would be needed to help reduce the effects that microplastics have on the environment. Today, I am introducing this Bill to encourage the Government to work with washing machine manufacturers to set standards to ensure all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with a microfibre plastic-catching filter.

I emphasise the importance of also tackling the issue at source. We must encourage textile and clothing manufacturers to make garments with sustainable thread that has a reduced shedding rate, so that the garments do not shed microfibres in the first place. However, adding filters to washing machines is a solution that is achievable in the short and medium term and can be enacted quickly by this Government. Through my work on the all-party parliamentary group on microplastics, I am aware of several companies that make microfibre-catching filters for washing machines. The technology for this solution is already available. For example, the company Grundig, which is part of Beko group, has made its own washing machine called the FiberCatcher, with a filter fitted inside. I understand it is one of the world’s first integrated systems and is currently on the market.

I am proposing that the Government work with manufacturers, which are very keen to help with the solution, to set standards for microfibre-catching filters to ensure that all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with a filter that captures a high volume of microfibres in the wash cycle. What I am proposing in the Bill is not novel. Other countries, such as France and Australia, have already pledged to look at this and are working with manufacturers to install microfibre-catching filters.

It is incumbent on us all to ensure that the environment is left in a better condition than when we found it. I was inspired, as I am sure were you, Mr Speaker, and all Members of this House, by Sir David Attenborough when he produced and presented the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” documentary, released only four years. It opened all our eyes to the damage we have caused to marine life through our use of plastic. Plastic breaks down, but it does not biodegrade. Microfibre plastic pollution is a huge problem, and the Government should explore all avenues to tackle the different types of pervasive plastic, in addition to the already excellent work that the Government are doing generally to tackle other sources of plastic pollution.

I urge the Government to consider my modest Bill today and to work with washing machine manufacturers—the door is open with them—which want a solution to ensure that microfibre plastics do not become an even bigger problem. With legislation such as what I am proposing, the UK could become a world leader in tackling microplastic pollution. This is a way forward for us all to continue to enjoy the health and hygiene that washing our clothes brings and to increase the fashion industry as well, while ensuring that we stop polluting the marine environment, as we currently do at a terrible rate.

Question put and agreed to.


That Alberto Costa, Philip Dunne, Caroline Lucas, Tim Loughton, Derek Thomas, Mr Jonathan Lord, Mrs Pauline Latham, Alexander Stafford, Andrew Selous, Jim Shannon, Patrick Grady and Holly Lynch present the Bill.

Alberto Costa accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 21 January 2022, and to be printed (Bill 205).

Business of the House (Today)


That, at this day’s sitting,

(1) notwithstanding paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motions in the name of Maggie Throup relating to (a) the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021 and (b) the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2021 not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order;

(2) notwithstanding paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business), the business in the name of Ian Blackford may be entered upon at any hour and may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours; and proceedings shall then lapse if not previously disposed of;

and, in respect of both items of business, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.)