Student-run startup Fiber Filter is promoting its new fiber-catching laundry bag prototype in a promotional video that aims to pressure washing machine companies to take social responsibility for microplastic pollution.

Fiber Filter startup founders Lola Bushnell (COL ’18), Carter Cortazzi (COL ’19), and Jaime Farrell (COL ’19) released the video Monday. Photographer Ben Von Wong traveled to Washington, D.C. at the end of the spring 2017 semester to film and edit the video with social media volunteers.

Von Wong used cloth laundry “monsters” to depict the growing problem of microfibers from synthetic clothing that are released into water systems each time someone does a load of laundry.

“His video is fantastic. It’s awesome. it really alerts people to the problem,” Cortazzi said.

COURTESY BENJAMIN VON WONG
A promotional poster for the student startup Fiber Filter, which seeks to keep microplastics out of the world’s oceans.

Cortazzi and the other founders of Fiber Filter were first alerted to the problem in the Global Challenges, Climate and Sociology course they took in fall 2016. Students in the class were charged with identifying a global environmental problem and proposing a solution.

Bushnell, Cortazzi and Farrell shared a love for ocean and water conservation, so they chose to focus on microfiber and microplastic pollution. Microplastic pollution affects oceans worldwide, and makes up 85 percent of debris on shorelines across the world, according to The Guardian.

The problem does not just affect oceans, however; microfiber pollution has also affected local water sources. Microplastic pollution cannot be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants, such as D.C.’s Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

For Bushnell, Cortazzi and Farrell, the project was not just for a grade in the class.

“It’s a huge problem with no real solution,” Cortazzi said. “We saw that and we thought we had a solution that could make a real difference, and it’s something that we were super passionate about so we decided to put all of our energy into it and that’s sort of where the startup came from.”

After receiving grants from the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund and Startup Hoyas, the group, with the addition of new team member Anisha Vora (SFS ’19) spent the spring 2017 semester working on product testing and research. Bushnell and Farrell stayed in D.C. over the summer to continue refining the website and prototype.

“It was long and really difficult, as it’s hard to get the methodology for doing that,” Cortazzi said.

The prototype is a mesh bag comparable to a small laundry bag, except the mesh of the bag is significantly smaller.

“Our mesh is super super fine,” Cortazzi said. “We experimented with 100 to 250 microns, so less than a millimeter in size.”

The team has tested the prototype in performance tests for both cleanliness of clothing and the capture rate of the fiber. Their best result was an 87 percent capture rate of microfibers.

“Experiments show the water and detergent can move freely through the bag but the fibers can’t really escape,” Cortazzi said.

There are other similar products out on the market today, according to Cortazzi, like Patagonia’s Guppy Friend and the Cora Ball. The team is not worried about the competition because their end goal is to inspire change.

“What we really wanted to achieve with this new video was pressure for an institutional solution because we’re three students – if we can come up with a solution to this, there is no reason that a huge washing machine company can’t build something like a filter into a washing machine,” Cortazzi said.

Challenging washing machine manufacturers to take social responsibility and to stop ignoring the problem they are helping create was the main goal of releasing the video. Finding a solution to the problem is important, particularly now that synthetic clothing production is set to triple by 2025.

Progress has been made in the overarching battle against microplastics, however. Microbeads were banned in a legislative decision by the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015. But, Cortazzi said, “the solution here is not as simple as that because you can’t just stop making synthetic clothing.” Thus, the team decided to pinpoint washing machine companies as their main point of contact.

“Our solution is still something we feel to be really viable but it’s only going to be a small part of what’s necessary to change,” Cortazzi said.

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