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Microplastic Filters (Washing Machines)

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2022

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.

First, I would like to thank colleagues across the House who have sponsored my Bill and all colleagues for their support on this important way of tackling pollution. We do not often think about plastic pollution when we wash our clothes, but all our clothes and garments, including yours, Mr Speaker, shed what are known as microfibre plastics. I am introducing this Bill to encourage the Government to work with washing machine manufacturers to set standards to ensure that all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with a microfibre plastic-catching filter.

Microfibre plastic pollution is one of the most pervasive and preventable forms of microplastic pollution; 35% of all microplastics released into the environment are shed from clothing. Microfibre plastics are tiny fibres that can be shed from our clothes during the wash cycle. Due to their small size, they are not trapped by existing washing machine filters and can end up in the waste water system, where they may be caught, remain in sewage sludge that is then spread on to our growing crops, or be released from the waste water into rivers and, worse still, the marine environment. Research by the University of Plymouth has found that one wash cycle can release more than 700,000 microfibres into our sewerage system. That means that across the UK, 10 trillion microfibres are released every week. That is a gargantuan amount of plastic pollution.

It is not enough to rely on our waste water treatment centres to filter microplastics from our water; the microplastics are so small that sewage works cannot capture all of them. The result is millions of microplastics being released from the waste water into our rivers and seas, damaging our environment. The microplastics contain chemicals that are then ingested by fish and other small aquatic creatures. Much of the plastic pollution then travels up the food chain so that we humans ingest it through consumption of fish.

Microplastic fibres from clothing are contaminating otherwise pristine natural environments, including in the snow close to the peak of Mount Everest, and have even been found in the depths of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific ocean. They are found in many urban and semi-urban river beds in the UK, in our constituencies. I urge colleagues to think about their own constituency rivers, which are probably contaminated with microplastics.

Recent research has also shown that microplastics are also in the lungs and blood of some human beings. That means that some of us here today already have microfibre plastics in our bodies, possibly even you, Mr Speaker—

I hope not too. It is suspected that they may have an effect on human health. We are still at the embryonic level in terms of research into this matter, but it cannot be good to have microplastic fibres in our lungs and in other parts of our body. More research is clearly needed to determine the health impact.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on microplastics, I have been working with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, which has long campaigned on microfibre plastics that come from laundry through its End Plastic Soup campaign. Many colleagues will remember that it brought that campaign to Parliament a few years ago, which is where I first learned about it. The APPG has also worked with a range of stakeholders, including academics, global washing machine manufacturers and environmental groups.

I would like to emphasise the importance of also tackling this issue at source. We must encourage textile and clothing manufacturers to make garments using sustainable thread with a reduced shedding rate, so that garments do not shed microfibres in the first place. However, adding filters to washing machines is completely achievable in the short to medium term and can be enacted quickly. Numerous studies, including by the University of Plymouth, demonstrate that the use of microplastic fibre filters can dramatically reduce the release of microplastic fibres into the environment—by as much as 78%.

Through my work on the APPG, I am aware of several British companies that make microfibre-catching filters for washing machines. The technology is already available and is fast developing. By taking advantage of that UK innovation, we would be leading the way in preventing microplastic pollution. I propose that the Government work with washing machine manufacturers and British companies that are already designing and making filters, to ensure that all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with filters to capture a high rate of these offending microfibres. This is a low-cost solution to our plastic pollution problem, and I am not proposing something that would be a first. Other countries, such as France and Australia, have already pledged to look at this issue and are working with manufacturers to install industry-leading 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. Like many Members, I was inspired by Sir David Attenborough in the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” documentary, which was released in 2017. It opened our eyes to the damage that we are all doing to the marine life and marine environment of our wonderful planet. Microfibre plastic pollution is an enormous problem, and the Government should explore all avenues to tackle the different types of pervasive plastic.

I thank all those who have been involved with the APPG for the excellent work they continue to do to encourage stakeholders such as the Government to take this matter seriously and to enact the necessary legislation. Washing machine manufacturers themselves want that; they want a level playing field, so that they can produce these filters, sell them to consumers and allow consumers to enjoy their existing quality of life—cleaning clothes is an important aspect of maintaining a good quality of life—but in a way that maintains, rather than damages, our natural environment.

I urge my colleagues in the Government to consider my Bill and to work with washing machine manufacturers, who want to achieve a solution that ensures that microfibre plastics do not become an even bigger problem. With such legislation, the United Kingdom, working with allies such as France and Australia, could become a global leader in tackling this microplastic pollution.

Question put and agreed to.


That Alberto Costa, Caroline Lucas, Tim Loughton, Mr Jonathan Lord, Andrew Selous, Mrs Pauline Latham, Philip Dunne, Stuart C. McDonald, Selaine Saxby, Mr Alistair Carmichael and Mrs Flick Drummond present the Bill.

Alberto Costa accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 February 2023, and to be printed (Bill 180).