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article imageStartup developing reusable laundry sheet to remove microplastics

By Karen Graham     Sep 15, 2017 in Technology
Waterloo - Microfibers have become a serious threat to our drinking water, and while no studies on their impact on human health have been done, a group of entrepreneurs has come up with something that looks like a dryer sheet that attracts and removes the fibers.
Microfibers, as the name suggests, are so small, they can only be seen using a microscope. These minuscule fibers of acrylic, nylon, spandex, and polyester are shed each time we wash our clothes and are carried off to wastewater treatment plants, eventually ending up in our drinking water.
A study in 2016 commissioned by clothing company Patagonia and conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that washing a single synthetic jacket released an average of 1.7 grams of microfibers.
Aquahacking Summit promotes solutions to water problems
Leaders from government, First Nations, philanthropically minded businesses and other groups were hosted by the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation and the Water Institute at the University of Waterloo, Ontario this week for the 2017 AquaHacking Summit.
The AquaHacking Challenge would not be possible without the kind generosity of its major sponsors, namely IBM Canada, GHD and Keurig, and numerous field partners. The de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation was founded in 1990 and is a family-run philanthropic organization dedicated to water conservation and to supporting family businesses.
This was the 3rd annual AquaHacking Summit, called “United for Lake Erie,” and is the culmination of a five-month “hackathon” challenge that saw five finalist teams pitch their innovative technology solutions to the issues facing Lake Erie, including Algae Blooms, Invasive Species, Microplastic Pollution, and Climate Change.
Lake Erie's water problems are decades old. With pollution, aging water infrastructure and harmful algae growth spurred by fertilizer runoff. And even though Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it supplies drinking water to close to 11 million people.
The five finalists were competing for tens of thousands of dollars and the chance to enter several local incubators and accelerator centers. One of the winners in the competition was a group of women from Waterloo, Ontario, taking Fourth Prize for a reusable laundry sheet that looks something like a Downey dryer sheet. The new sheet, called PolyGone, is dropped into the washing machine along with your dirty laundry.
The five finalist teams selected on June 21 2017 to compete in the Aquahacking Summit Sept. 13 and 1...
The five finalist teams selected on June 21,2017 to compete in the Aquahacking Summit Sept. 13 and 14.
Aquahacking
The sheet attracts microfibers so they can be recycled, according to the group, who created a startup company, PolyGone. "With these fibers entering our food system and ending up on our plates, we are essentially eating polluted laundry," said co-founder Lauren Smith at the conference, reports Motherboard.
Smith, who holds a Masters degree in sustainability management from UW, specializing in water, said they were currently experimenting with different coatings to best attract these fibers in order to ensure the highest possible capture rate – effectively eliminating microfibre emissions into waterways.
The Judge's were impressed with the idea, giving Team PolyGone a Fourth Place, but at the same time questioned whether consumers would buy the product, pointing out it was hard enough to get people to recycle used batteries.
PolyGone's founders are looking to talk with washing machine manufacturers about creating a filter that would be attached to a washing machine. That idea, in itself, is more like what has been suggested as a filtering method at water treatment plants, which is feasible, if someone would just give it a try.
"We really hope to have a prototype [of the reusable sheet] outside of the lab setting by the spring," said Smith. "This funding will help us do that for sure."
More about microplastics, Laundry, aquahacking, Lake erie, Technology