Petition Install microplastic filters on new washing machines as standard

Each machine wash can shed up to 700,000 microplastics into our ecosystem. Microplastics are now in our rivers and oceans, our fish, our salt, our food chain - and yes - our poos! 91% of marine particles and 92% of freshwater particles are microplastics. We need to stem the flow at the source.

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Popular fabrics including nylon, polyester, velour, acrylic are made of plastic. When we wash these items in washing machines tiny fibres are shed and enter our water system. Plastic waste like this is eaten by fish, humans eat the fish, and we end up with microplastics in our own bodies. There are dangerous side effects to this which have already been revealed. Washing manufacturers have the technology already to add appropriate filters but chose not too unless there is consumer pressure.

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Government responded

This response was given on 29 April 2019

The Government takes the safety of consumers and the environment very seriously. Washing machines must comply with legal safety requirements that protect people animals and property from safety risks.

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The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is responsible for ensuring that electrical appliances, including washing machines are safe for consumers to use. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 require that any washing machine placed on the market must be designed and manufactured in accordance with safety objectives before it can be sold in the UK. This includes protection against hazards to people, animals or property arising from the electrical equipment such as the danger of physical injury or other harm which might be caused by direct or indirect contact, dangers from temperature, arcs or radiation or non-electrical dangers. There is no specific legal requirement for manufacturers to add an appropriate filter to screen out any microplastics. However, there is nothing to prevent businesses from choosing to do so on a voluntary basis.

The majority of current product regulation is underpinned by European and international standards, which set a clear and measurable benchmark to assess a product. These standards are voluntary and can cover issues related to design which are not required for safety purposes, such as the voluntary adoption of a filter.

The international standards system aims to develop one standard on any given industry issue, to be adopted in countries worldwide. Common standards are voluntary but greatly reduce the cost and complexity for industry and consumers, enable business to operate easily across borders and simplify market access. BEIS supports the UK’s active participation in international standards and is working with The British Standards Institution (BSI) to encourage greater diversity in committee representation, ensuring that all voices are adequately heard and that standards reflect the outcomes we collectively want to achieve, including on environmental matters.

The UK is committed to lead efforts to protect the marine environment from all stressors and recognises that to tackle marine pollution, we need a sustainable, international and transboundary approach focused on preventing material from becoming marine litter. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) lead across Government on environmental protection matters.

The UK has signed up to the G7 led Oceans Plastic Charter and Innovation and was one of the first countries to sign the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to address plastic waste and pollution in line with the principles of reduce, re-use and recycle. The Government is working with the World Economic Forum to establish the Global Plastic Action Partnership providing funding of £2.4 million which will support the goals of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean’s Alliance and other countries around the globe.

The Government has set a target to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within the lifetime of the 25 year Environment Plan (by 2042) and set aside £20 million for research and development managed through the Plastics Innovation Fund in March 2018. A further £10 million was committed in the 2018 Autumn Budget for further plastics research and development along with £10 million to pioneer innovative approaches to boosting recycling and reducing litter.

However, there is much more to do. The Government recognises that there is a broad range of knowledge gaps around the risks of the impacts of microplastics on the environment or on human health. There is therefore a need to steer the scientific community to focus research on the key knowledge gaps. DEFRA are currently supporting a research project led by scientists at the University of Plymouth to explore how microplastics enter waterways and oceans and the impact they have on marine life. Fibres released into waste water during a washing cycle is a specific consideration of 11-month project tasked with improving our understanding of microplastics and how they enter oceans.

The Drinking Water Inspectorate has commissioned research on removal of microplastics by drinking water treatment processes. Defra is also working with the Environment Agency and the UK’s water industry to establish methods to detect, characterise and quantify microplastics and fibres entering wastewater treatment works to evaluate the efficiency of treatment processes for their removal from domestic wastewaters and to assess their fate and biological effects in receiving rivers.

DEFRA are also working with the water industry to reduce the amount of litter entering the environment from sewage and waste water systems, in line with European directives. Over £9 billion has been invested in England and Wales between 1990 and 2010 to improve sewage treatment works and collecting systems to limit polluting events, and some £2 billion is planned between now and 2020. Water infrastructure is an important pathway of contaminants, including microfibres, to the wider aquatic environment.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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Petitions Committee requests a revised response from the Government

The Petitions Committee (the group of MPs who oversee the petitions system) met recently and considered the Government’s response to this petition. They felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition and have therefore written back to the Government to ask them to provide a revised response.

When the Committee have received a revised response from the Government, this will be published on the website and you will receive an email.

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