Design-led start up Planet Care has launched version 2.0 of its microfibre-catching washing machine filter, radically overhauling its initial design by prioritising user experience and circular principles.
Around 700,000 tiny fibres are released into drainage systems from every clothes wash, making wastewater from washing machines the largest source of microplastics in our oceans, according to PlanetCare. As a result, it contributes to the average consumer eating the equivalent of a credit card worth of microplastics every week.
While visiting a touring exhibition on marine litter five years ago, PlanetCare founder and chief executive officer Mojca Zupan learned that washing machine wastewater accounts for 35% of microplastics. Shocked by her findings, she founded PlanetCare in 2017 with one clear goal: “to stop microfibre pollution at the source”.
The filter works by being connected to the washing machine drain hose where it collects microfibres in an exchangeable cartridge. It can be fitted to any washing machine in around ten minutes and requires no tools or electricity.
Using feedback from its base of over 7,000 real life users, the company sought to address problem of its first generation of filters. “User friendliness” was key to the design, says chief product officer Miha Vrhovec, because encouraging people to “adopt environmental solutions through grassroots approach” can be challenging and “mainstream users are not as forgiving as early adopters”.
While the basic function of the product is the same, Vrhovec describes PlanetCare 2.0 as “a completely new product” with all-new components. The new version includes a safety valve that will bypass the cartridge when the filter is full or when the machine needs to continuously pump water due to a washing machine malfunction. Users can also select the bypass option when washing cotton, wool, and other natural garments.
Its new cartridge is designed to be “lighter, softer, and longer lasting” with less packaging volume to lower the impact of return shipping, says Vrhovec, and there is now an indicator that shows when the cartridge should be replaced. To further reduce waste, PlanetCare has also made the product compatible with old cartridges that might be left over.
Other new features include “significant structural changes”, which have increased the filter’s capacity and “greatly reducing the amount of material used”, Vrhovec explains. She adds that is also now made from recycled plastic and has “a new, attractive design”.
Version 2.0 was designed to have “a delicate balance between form and function”, says Vrhovec, as it needed to be both attractive in the home and “practically intuitive for the end-user”.
A “closed loop” solution
“Two things are of paramount importance to us: ensuring that our filters don’t become waste and ensuring that the microfibres are not rereleased into the environment”, says Zupan. PlanetCare’s “closed loop” solution means that users “simply return the cartridges via prepaid courier service” when full so the company can reuse most of the cartridge while collecting the filter medium (the permeable material that removes the particles from the fluid) and fibres within it that cannot be reused for recycling, according to Vrhovec.
Returned cartridges are cleaned, fitted with a new filtering medium, and sent back to users for reuse, whereas the filter insert with the captured fibres is retained and prepared for recycling. PlanetCare is currently conducting tests with a designer furniture brand Donar, which is looking to develop a new Ocean microplastics line of their products from the fibres caught by the filter.
Donar’s current production process uses proprietary technology for the use of waste nonwoven textiles, a material that is fully compatible with waste from PlanetCare filter cartridges. As a result, the microfibres can “seamlessly integrate into the process without the need for significant production changes”, says Zupan.
Once PlanetCare has reach enough users locally and regionally, Zupan plans to open local refurbishing units so “the whole process will be conducted locally, reducing [its] carbon footprint further”.