Team PolyGone during Aquahacking Pitch

Interview: PolyGone ̶ an invention to catch microfibers during machine wash

Amsterdam, October 3 – A Canadian start-up is developing a reusable sheet, called PolyGone, which catches microfibers during the process of washing laundry. Like the Guppy Friend and the Cora Ball, the PolyGone is a grassroot invention  ̶  a solution that doesn’t come from the industry.

The PolyGone has to be added to the wash. The research team, which comprises a group of women based in Waterloo, Canada, presented their invention during AquaHacking 2017, a challenge aiming at solving Lake Erie’s water issues, including microfiber pollution.

The Plastic Soup Foundation asked the team about the PolyGone:

Q: You and your team have developed a reusable sheet, the PolyGone, which is added to the wash. The sheet catches microfibers that otherwise would be flushed down the drain with the wastewater. What is the basic principle behind your concept? How do microplastics become attached to the sheet?

We are currently at the development stage in which we are testing various materials to capture microfibers. We have identified materials that can attract and capture microfibers and are seeking additional funding to develop the prototype. Our sheet uses physiochemical properties to attract and retain microfibers during the washing process.

 

Q: You are a start-up company affiliated to the University of Waterloo. Can you do your research using the university’s equipment and knowhow?

We are a start-up housed in Velocity Science, which is part of Velocity, one of Waterloo’s leading start-up incubators. As a result, we have access to lab space and equipment through Velocity Science. We have also developed strong relations with researchers at the Institute for Polymer Research and the Water Institute at the University of Waterloo. Our research combines knowledge across multiple disciplines such as environmental science, chemistry, chemical engineering, and nanotechnology. The University of Waterloo’s Water Institute and AquaHacking’s network have been a valuable factor in establishing these connections.

 

Q: We know that one piece of material, like a fleece jacket, may release hundreds of thousands of plastic microfibers during a single machine wash. Do you have any estimation for the percentage of microfibers the PolyGone will catch.

We’ve had promising results in our lab where we estimate between 40 to 80% of the microfibers shed during a single machine wash are caught. However, we are still in the early stages and working on improving this figure.

 

Q: What is somebody supposed to do with the sheet after the wash. How do they dispose of the microfibers caught by the PolyGone?

We expect the first step will be to reduce the number of microfibers in water systems. Our goal is to mitigate the number of microfibers making their way into freshwater lakes and other waterbodies. We’re exploring options to recycle microfibers captured at the end of a product’s life. However, motivating people to recycle materials can be a challenge, so we hope we can promote incentives to recycle in order to make the recycling process easier.

At the moment, microfibers captured from our product may end up in a landfill, which is not ideal, but it is better than it directly entering the waterways which we, freshwater species and wildlife rely on for tourism, fishing, and drinking water. We are currently consulting with microplastic recycling groups to streamline this process.

 

Q: We know that tumble dryers also generate many microfibers when drying synthetic materials. Can the PolyGone be used in a tumble fdryer?

Microfiber pollution has multiple entry points into our environment. To our knowledge (and according to studies by Pirc et al. 2016) microfibers are released during the drying process, but most are caught by the tumble dryer’s filter and removed with the lint.

PolyGone is tackling the problem by putting the power in the hands of the average person, who can choose to minimize the impact of the pollution in our water systems. The main function of the sheet is to catch microfibers released into the water during the washing process. We want to ensure that our first product can work effectively in the washing machine.

 

Q: They are developing a sheet as well as a filter. What would be the difference and are you thinking of more or other solutions too?

The sheet is added to each load of the washing machine to catch microfibers released during the wash. We aim to find a more permanent solution requiring less attention and effort on behalf of the user. Our goal is to further raise consumer awareness about microfibers in order to make them more likely to buy filters or washing machines that include ways to capture microfibers.

We are using our research from the development of the sheet to create a hardware solution which can be retro-fitted to washing machines and which will ultimately guide the manufacturing process of washing machines. Creating a retro-fit for laundry machines will hopefully provide an incentive to laundry manufacturing companies to incorporate this design in their original concept. Now that micro-beads have been listed as a toxic substance in North America and are in the process of being banned from cosmetic products, the regulation of microfibers could be the next step to protecting our water.

 

Q: The sheet is not on the market yet. Is much more research needed? When do you expect the sheet to be on the market and will it only be on sale in Canada?

We are currently in the research and development phase. We plan to launch the product in 2018. The sheet will initially be sold in Canada. However, we are open to expanding our market to other countries, including ones in the EU. Prior to expansion, our utmost priority is to deliver a quality product to our consumer base.

 

For more information about PolyGone, visit www.polygone.ca