UK urged to act on microplastics with filter mandate

Bristol-based microfiltration specialists Matter and campaigners A Plastic Planet are calling on the UK government to mandate microplastic filters on washing machines.

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The calls come as a bill to mandate filters by 2029 in California was vetoed by governor Gavin Newsom, despite passing both houses of the State Legislature. In the UK, the Microplastic Filters (Washing Machines) Bill is currently in its second reading in the House of Commons having been introduced in 2022. France has already passed a mandate that comes into effect in 2025, with the EU also looking at legislating across the bloc.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than five millimetres in size, produced mainly through the production and use of clothing and textiles. A single washing machine cycle can produce up to 700,000 microplastic fibres, which are then released into waterways. An estimated 171 trillion microplastic particles currently float within our oceans, and there is a growing body of research suggesting the particles are harmful to human and animal health, as well as the wider environment.

"We are disappointed that pioneering proposals in California which would see microfibre filters required on all washing machines sold after 2029 have been vetoed by the state governor,” said Rob Hemsley, Matter CFO.

"This progressive policy has enjoyed strong support from both Houses and with textiles accounting for 35 per cent of all microplastics that enter our oceans, it's vital that urgent action is taken to tackle this problem at source.

"France has already shown that lawmakers can take bold action when we work together, we now need California and the rest of the world to follow suit.”

In a statement issued by Newsom at the time of his veto, he claimed he was concerned over additional costs landing on consumers. He went on to suggest ‘alternative approaches’ should be considered to ‘incentivise, rather than mandate on the use of filters’. However, campaigners A Plastic Planet claim a filter mandate is the bare minimum that legislators should be doing to address the issue.

“The mandatory capture of plastic fibres should be a first step, filter technology being essential in cleaning up the toxic mess we have created,” said Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet & Plastic Health Council. “But if we truly want to protect our planet and our health, we must transition to a fully circular system that embraces the use of natural plastic free materials and reuse; a system where plastic particles are the exception and not the norm.

“As Westminster continues to regress on environmental protections, others such as France are pulling way ahead in implementing progressive legislation that is desperately needed.”