Divert and Capture: Microfiber Pilot Project

The Rochman Lab is partnering with Georgian Bay Forever on a project to divert microfibers from entering the Great Lakes.


Microfibers are anthropogenic fibers (< 5mm in length), many of which are microplastics. Widespread contamination around the world makes microfibers one of the most prevalent types of microplastics in surface water, soil, biota and atmospheric samples. Microfibers enter the environment from several sources, and one known route is through washing our clothing.

Studies show that a single load of laundry can release thousands of microfibers into washing machine effluent, and when washing effluent is carried to a wastewater treatment plant, some microfibers are released directly into aquatic ecosystems.

PhD student Lisa Erdle is investigating microfiber contamination in wild-caught fish from the Great Lakes and is studying the effects of microfibers when ingested by wildlife. She is also leading this pilot project.

LIsa Erdle

This project is a next step to a project we did this summer, quantifying the effectiveness of existing technologies to reduce microfibers being emitted from washing machines. We investigated the effectiveness of two technologies marketed to reduce microfiber emissions. Our published study demonstrates that after-market filters on washing machines significantly reduce microfibers in washing machine effluent. This shows that filters added to washing machines can capture and divert microfiber, keeping them out of our lakes.

Now, we’re working with Georgian Bay Forever, a local environmental charity, on a pilot project to see whether we can scale up our initial results in the lab to a small town. In 2019, we will start a two-year study installing washing machine filters in over 100 households in Parry Sound, Ontario. In quantifying microfibers captured at a community-scale, we hope to (1) demonstrate that filters are effective at capturing microfibers in people’s homes and (2) advance effective solutions to keep microfibers from entering Lake Huron.

Interested in learning more this project, or how to sign up for a free washing machine filter in Parry Sound? Contact Lisa Erdle (lisa.erdle[at]mail.utoronto.ca) or visit the project site on Georgian Bay Forever’s website.

Interested in how this work may inform policy? Read our policy brief.

Follow our project in the News: Metroland Media, CBCNewstalk 610 Radio


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