Laundry bag stops microfibers from reaching our oceans

Two German inventors have come up with a laundry bag that stops microfibers from ending up in our oceans and polluting the food chain. The outdoor clothing company Patagonia will soon start stocking the laundry bag.

Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies – co-owners of the German surfing and outdoor apparel retailer Langbrett – have invented a reusable laundry bag that prevents microfibers from polluting our oceans and food chain.

As the Guardian reported, the two were inspired to take action after reading news reports connecting many of the products they sell to the growing threat of microfiber pollution. Fleece jackets, like other synthetic textiles, release tiny plastic fibres into wastewater after washing. These eventually end up in rivers, lakes and oceans.

The size of the microfibers means that they cannot be filtered out at sewage treatment plants and unlike natural fibres, they do not biodegrade over time. They also tend to bind with harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants.

Although no studies to date have shown that microfibers cause health problems in humans, there is evidence that they cause health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers. And microfibers are making their way up the food chain: researchers have found high numbers them inside fish and shellfish sold in supermarkets.

Nolte and Spies weren’t content to wait for scientific research to eventually find out what harm these pollutants cause humans. “We said, ‘either we have to stop selling fleece [apparel] or we have to think of a solution’. So we went out to our beer garden and said ‘what can we do?’” explained Nolte.

Their beer brainstorming session led to the Guppy Friend, a mesh laundry bag that captures 99 per cent of the microfibers shed while clothes are tossed and spun in the washing machine. Made with a 50-micron mesh, it’s wide enough to allow soapy water to enter the bag without allowing the fibres to escape. After the washing cycle, the fibres – visible against the white mesh – can be removed by hand and disposed of.

The German inventors drew the attention of the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, which gave them EUR 100,000 to develop the product. In exchange for the grant, Patagonia will be the first retailer, aside from Langbrett, to sell Guppy Friend. The bags are expected to retail for USD 20 to 30 per bag. The pair also received EUR 28,640 from a Kickstarter campaign that ran from October to December last year. 668 people backed the campaign.

According to a study from the University of California, a city with 100,000 inhabitants releases a wash-related volume of microfibers equivalent to 15,000 plastic bags every day, reported Climate Action.

Image credit: Petras Gagilas, flickr/Creative Commons

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