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Regulating Microfiber Pollution: What Are Countries Doing to Fight Microfiber Emissions

Key takeaways:

  • So far France is the only country in the world that introduced mandatory microfiber filters.
  • The European Union, Sweden and the Netherlands all recognize the problem of microfiber pollution but haven’t yet implemented any specific measures.
  • In the U.S., a handful of states have passed bills that aim to raise awareness of microfiber pollution.

Microfiber pollution can’t be solved by individuals alone - although every single contribution is important and necessary!

To bring about radical change, we need a broader coalition that spans industries, governments and includes cross-border cooperation.  

Current initiatives for regulating microfiber pollution are a start, but they still lack the breadth, action planning and momentum that will gain public attention and lead to broad-based international action. In our view, the sheer scale and the risks associated with microfiber pollution demand immediate attention.

With that in mind, we combed the reports, government records and articles to give you the most comprehensive and up-to-date rundown of how countries around the world plan to regulate microfiber emissions. Let’s dive in!

France: leading the way with mandatory microfiber filters

France is the trailblazer when it comes to regulating microfiber pollution. It currently stands out as the only country in the world that turned the fight against plastic microfiber pollution into a law. As of January 2025, all new washers sold in France will have to include a microfiber filter. The measure will affect around 2.7 million washing machines that are sold in the country each year.

“We don’t have a choice,” said the Frech Secretary of State for Ecological Transition Brune Poirson when she announced the law in 2020. The new regulation “places France at the forefront of the fight against microplastic pollution and innovation for the ecological transition”, she added.

Mojca Zupan, PlanetCare's founder and CEO, who was invited to discuss the implications of the new regulation, estimates the French measures could prevent around 500 tons of microfibers entering the environment per year.

The EU recognizes microfiber pollution but has nothing to show so far

The EU is pondering similar rules to France’s, but so far hasn't put anything into actual law. The block of 27 countries recognizes, however, that plastics, in general, can have “serious negative effects on the environment and human health”.

In 2018, the European Commission adopted a European strategy for plastics that aims to transform the way plastic products are designed, produced, used and recycled.

One of the objectives of the strategy is to tackle marine litter by reducing the release of microplastics into the environment, including microfibers. On that front, the Commission “will consider measures to include better information and minimum requirements on the release of microfibers from textiles,” the strategy says.

Individual members of the European Parliament have also shown certain initiatives. Frédérique Ries, an MP from Belgium, asked the Commission in March 2020 if they plan to follow the French example by requiring washing machines to be sold with in-built microfiber filters.

In their answer, the European Commission first berated the French a bit for not sharing the draft of their law before enacting it (apparently, the French were supposed to do that).

The Commission further explained that they have looked into the possibility “of setting requirements on the use of washing machine filters to capture plastic microfibres” but, at the time, didn’t find any good and available technical solution. They promised to review the current regulation until the end of 2025. (If you want to learn more about EU policy regarding the environmental impact of textile, you can check this document.)

UK: The awareness is gaining momentum

Many organizations in the UK are also trying to raise awareness and drive change that would help stem the flow of microfibres into our ecosystems. Marine Conservation Society (MCS), for example, is calling on the government with a new campaign and petition called Stop Ocean Threads. Their aim is to secure legislation that would require all washing machines to include microfiber filters by 2023.  

The ambition behind the petition has reached the country’s legislators. An all-party parliamentary group has been set up in September 2021 to highlight the issue. It published its first report urging ministers to take action, according to the Guardian.

Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP who set up the group, told the newspaper that many washing machine manufacturers and plastic producers were also behind the proposals. In his words, some have already indicated they will start fitting filters, regardless of legislation. As an individual MP Mr. Costa introduced a Bill in Nov. 2021 proposing the introduction of microfibre filters into washing machines. 

Meanwhile, the government says that is keeping the compulsory fitting under close review.

Sweden: fighting microfibers with innovation

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a government agency, is at the forefront of addressing the microfiber issue and raising awareness in this Scandinavian country. The progress can be followed through their reports: in 2017 the first report on microplastics, in 2018 on filters for microfibres and in 2019 on how laundry emissions could potentially be regulated through the Eco-directive. In their latest “Microplastics in the Environment” report, they especially highlighted the problem of microfibers that shed from laundering clothes. “Reducing emissions of the microplastic generated by washing synthetic textiles is a matter of urgency,” they pointed out. 

The agency encourages the introduction and use of microfiber filters in households and shared laundry facilities. As part of the broader activities, they organize competitions that celebrate innovative solutions tackling microfiber pollution. PlanetCare won the award twice already.

Microfiber filters are considered an important part of the fight against microfiber pollution.

The Netherlands: one politician’s warnings about health risks

In 2021, Dutch politician Carla Dik-Faber presented a motion, highlighting her concern about the presence of microfibers in textile. According to the Plastic Soup Foundation, she pointed to recent studies that shown how inhaled microplastics may reduce lung regeneration – something that we explain more in detail in this article. Dik-Faber called on the Government to also focus on microfibers in their anti-microplastics initiatives.

California: microfiber filtration in laundromats?

On the other side of the pond, certain U.S. states seem to lead the way in trying to tackle microfiber pollution top-down – but with varying results. California, for instance, has recently passed a bill that would create a one-year pilot program to see how effective microfiber filters are. The results of the pilot are expected in 2023.

A couple of years ago, the Golden state almost passed a much more consequential law – one that required polyester clothing to carry a microfiber pollution warning label. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t pass, but it led to a broad discussion of policy options to address microfibers.

According to the Surfrider organization, these currently debated measures may range from mandatory filtering upgrades in household washing machines to adopting consumer education methods. California’s legislature, for example, is already considering a bill that would identify and eventually require effective microfiber filtration in laundry facilities.

**Update March 2022**

In February 2022, the Californian state panel approved a plan to reduce plastic waste in the oceans, including laundry microfibers. Recommendations range from bans on polystyrene foam food containers to promoting the use of tight-mesh washing machine filters as a way to capture microfibers before they enter the ocean-bound wastewater. The vote is seen as the first microplastics strategy in the US.

The proposal, however, is only a suggestion at this point, pending approval from other agencies and the state legislature, according to the LA Times.  But it’s also “a step in the right direction and an indication of how seriously we’re beginning to take this issue”, said Senator Ben Allen who sits on the Ocean Protection Council that approved the report.

Connecticut came close to mandatory warning labels

Connecticut, too, introduced half-baked legislation. They enacted a state-wide bill that brings together a working group of industry and environmental advocates. Their aim is to brainstorm and implement solutions that would help mitigate microfiber pollution.

The initial idea for the bill seemed much more ambitious though. It wanted to introduce clothing labels that would alert consumers of the presence of synthetic microfibers. But the industry apparently pushed back. The American Apparel & Footwear Association said that "...the version approved by the legislature removed a labelling requirement and other concerning language that were part of the original bill."

 New York State still needs to talk about the labels 

The New York State Senate had a similar idea of regulating microfiber pollution: a group of politicians wanted every piece of clothing that contains more than 50 percent synthetics to have a label warning consumers of microfiber waste. The bill didn’t (yet) make it to the floor of the Senate where it could be discussed.

Ontario is full of beautiful nature. The Canadian province is also at the forefront of the fight against microfiber pollution in the country.

In Canada, Ontario is (slowly) making the first moves

Cautiously optimistic news is also coming from Ontario, the second biggest Canadian province. In spring 2021, two local politicians introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of washing machines without a microfiber filter. The bill has yet to move to the second reading stage, and it won’t do so until after the next provincial elections in June at the earliest. 

Microfiber filters »make a lot of sense,« Jessica Bell, one of the bill's sponsors, told the local media. »I can’t think of any good reason why we wouldn’t do that.«

The Ontario government, however, believes that such initiatives can be better addressed nationally or internationally. But the Canadian government doesn't seem to be on the issue just yet. 

Australia - taking a softer approach to regulating microfiber pollution

In March 2021, the Australian government announced its National Plastics Plan that would introduce microfiber filters in commercial and residential washers by July 2030.

The Australian government is comparing the plan to its initiative that helped the industry to phase out microbeads from 99 percent of cosmetics and cleaning products – all voluntary.  We sincerely hope they’ll reach the same results fighting the microfiber pollution!

Regulating Microfiber Pollution: It’s all about working together

At PlanetCare, we believe in the power of teamwork. Everyone has a role to play – from consumers like you and me to politicians, NGOs start-ups and the industry.

Speaking from our own experience, washing machine producers, especially, are getting more interested in adopting microfiber filtering solutions – most likely because people want them to. Our recent survey of more than 32,000 respondents showed that an overwhelming majority wants washing machines with built-in filtering solutions.

Although we sometimes get a bit frustrated as we believe we need to be faster in addressing microfiber emissions, the survey makes us feel hopeful. It shows us that more people like you are prepared to be part of the solution - and that’s how real change starts!

Blazej Kupec
Blazej Kupec
Blazej writes about inspiring ideas and fascinating people who make our world a greener place. A journalist by profession, Blazej can be found in Berlin, most likely in coworking places or anywhere with Neapolitan pizza. When he is not writing, he’ll read history books or collect old maps.

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