About 60% of garments around the world are made from oil, which then gets turned into fabrics like polyester, nylon yarn. But when they’re washed, these fabrics release tiny fibers, called microfibers, less than one millimeter long, because they are not chemically bonded together. In one study, an acrylic sweater shed 700,000 fibers each time it was washed. Those microfibers then get into our water system and are being found in our water system, in fish, and in humans.
Now one of the world’s largest home appliance companies is working to keep microplastics from seeping into the oceans. And it’s sharing that technology with its competitors.
The company, Arçelik, sells its products in 146 countries and owns 12 major home appliance brands (one of which, Beko, is the second bestselling in its market in Europe). Starting next year, Arçelik will release washing machines with built-in filtration systems that prevent synthetic microfibers from escaping into city sewers. Currently, more than 1 million microplastic fibers make their way from drains to oceans per laundry load.
Arçelik’s new washing machines contain multilayered filters behind the detergent compartment. When water gets pushed out through the filter at the end of the cycle, 90% of microplastic fibers get caught in the filter and don’t make it out of the machines.
Arçelik shared its technology with competitors on September 7, in a keynote speech he gave at IFA, a conference for the consumer electronics industry. “We basically said we’re applying for patents, but we will not pursue any intellectual property protection, and we invite our competition to use this technology,” says Hakan Bulgurlu, CEO of Arçelik.
Arçelik’s manufacturing headquarters is in Turkey, but the company has factories in countries ranging from South Africa to Pakistan and China. Their products are sold largely in Europe, but they make up 17% of the home appliance market share in the U.K. “We’ve been number one for quite some time in Poland, Romania, Turkey, Pakistan, and South Africa,” Bulgurlu says. The company also makes a biodegradable fridge, constructed out of “bioplastic” made from food residue, like eggshells and corn, and a washing machine tub made of recycled plastic bottles.
Making something like a biodegradable fridge is costly—almost cost prohibitive. But Bulgurlu thinks people will adapt to the steeper costs in order to preserve the environment. “As time goes by, people will be willing to pay more,” he says. “And as you make more of these, the cost will come down and become more accessible.”