Closed 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 3 September 2019

The Government takes environmental protection very seriously. Washing machines must comply with legal safety requirements to protect people, animals and property from safety risks.

The Government currently has no plans to require manufacturers to install microplastic filters on new washing machines. It is working with industry to encourage improved environmental outcomes and reduce water pollution. We will continue to assess new and emerging evidence and consider the need for legislation in the future if industry approaches are not successful.

The UK is committed to lead efforts to protect the environment from all stressors and recognises that tackling water pollution needs a sustainable, international and transboundary approach.

Water infrastructure is recognised as an important pathway of contaminants, including microplastics, to the wider environment. The Government appreciates that there are knowledge and evidence gaps around the risks of microplastics on ecosystems and humans. There is therefore a need to steer the scientific community to focus research on closing the key knowledge gaps to understand the real effects these materials are exerting on ecosystems and humans. Defra is supporting a research project at the University of Plymouth which explores how microplastics enter waterways and oceans and the impact they may have on marine life. Fibres released into wastewater during a washing cycle is a specific consideration of the project. Preventing the release of these materials at source, whether at the point of machine-washing textiles and reducing emissions of microplastics to the wastewater system or at the point of wastewater treatment, requires more research. One line of research will need to address the technical question of what would be the appropriate mesh size for the washing machine filter to provide the most effective removal of textile fibres, and how the trapped fibres would be sustainably disposed of to eliminate the possibility of them entering the environment via other pathways.

Defra is also working with the water industry to reduce the amount of litter entering the environment from sewage and wastewater systems. 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. The Drinking Water Inspectorate has commissioned research on the removal of microplastics by drinking water treatment processes. Defra is working with the Environment Agency and the UK water industry to establish methods to detect, characterise and quantify microplastics entering wastewater treatment works to evaluate the efficiency of treatment processes in their removal from domestic wastewaters. As these pieces of research conclude, the evidence will be rigorously assessed to inform policy decision making on how to tackle microplastics, including by preventing them from entering the wider environment.

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, domestic 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 filters to screen out 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 for consumer products. These standards are voluntary and can cover issues related to design which are not required for safety purposes, such as 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.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/248269)

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Original Government response

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.

This response was given on 29 April 2019.