Mandatory filters should be fitted in washing machines to reduce microplastic pollution
The government should and could introduce stronger measures to help prevent plastic pollution quickly, that would make a significant impact.
Plastic pollution has been a growing problem for many years, the plastic crisis has emerged as one of the foremost environmental and social issues affecting our planet. Plastics do not degrade; they break down into smaller pieces called microplastics which are defined as 5mm or less in size.
The government have introduced policies to tackle plastics such as the 5p levy on plastic bags and have most recently announced a potential ban on plastic cutlery, with a consultation due to take place this autumn.
However, the government should and could introduce stronger measures to help prevent plastic pollution quickly that would make a significant impact.
As chair of the APPG on Microplastics, I have been working with Parliamentarians from across both Houses to produce the Group’s first report. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes, Secretariat of the APPG, first alerted me to the problems associated with microfibre plastic pollution. They have raised this issue through their “End Plastic Soup” campaign.
Introducing a scheme for textiles is important given the rise of fast fashion in recent years
Microfibre plastic is shed through the wearing and laundering of garments and are part of the wider issue of microplastic pollution. Research carried out by the University of Plymouth has shown that each use of a domestic washing machine could release more than 700,000 fibres into our wastewater system. With UK households doing as much as 68 million loads of laundry a week, this is a staggering amount of plastic.
Fibres then escape the wastewater treatment works and can end up in our rivers and seas. They can also end up in sewage sludge which is then treated and routinely spread on agricultural land. Although the sludge provides nutrients, it also contains microplastics not captured in the treatment stage. Microfibres can also be ingested by aquatic fauna and then can travel up the food chain. The full effect of consuming toxic plastic particles is still unknown, but research has shown it is being involuntarily ingested by humans.
Our report, published today, contains six key recommendations that are easily achievable by the government. The report is supported by over twenty cross-industry stakeholders including leading academics, global washing machine companies, environmental organisations and experts in microplastic pollution.
The report’s recommendations include introducing mandatory microfibre catching filters in washing machines from 2025. With the technology for this solution already available, introducing this legislation would significantly reduce the amount of microfibre plastic pollution entering our waterways. Countries such as France and Australia have also mandated to look into this, if the UK could also commit to introducing filters we would be leading the way in reducing microfibre pollution.
The APPG on Microplastics are calling for the government to introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for textiles from 2023. This would build upon the government’s commitment to introduce an EPR scheme for plastic packaging. Introducing a scheme for textiles is important given the rise of fast fashion in recent years. In addition, increased fibre shedding is seen among garments of lower quality and this policy would focus on tackling the source of the problem which is essential.
The report also recommends appointing a designated Minister of Plastic Pollution, or a MOPP, a new cross departmental Minister who would have a clear remit and control of prevention of plastic pollution. The Minister would also have oversight of environmental policies that concern plastic and their polluting effects on land and aquatic environments.
I would strongly urge the Government to consider all of the important recommendations in the APPG report so that we can tackle plastic pollution once and for all.
Alberto Costa is the Conservative MP for South Leicestershire and chair of the APPG on Microplastics.
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