#Gamechangers by ABN AMRO: MarcelvangalenDesign

Microfibres… They sound harmless enough, right? Wrong, says designer Eric van Slooten, Director of MarcelvangalenDesign. In fact, he calls them the “assassins” which are turning our oceans into a plastic soup. Measuring five millimetres or less, these tiny fibres are released into the water supply when we wash our clothes – anywhere from 10 to 20 million fibres per load, 71 per cent of which are synthetic and thus non-biodegradable. Fish then feed on this floating textile mass, and the fibres end up on our plates. Having set out to find a solution to this bizarre and toxic problem, Eric’s design agency came up with an ingenious idea: a washing machine filter. The design was chosen for ABN AMRO’s Game Changers Experience and is now on show at the 2019 Dutch Design Week (DDW19)

"A clean ocean starts with your washing machine"

How exactly does the filter work?

“It’s very simple, really. All you have to do is connect the filter to your washing machine’s drain hose, and it does the rest, filtering out all the smallest fibres. The water authority filters the larger ones out of our sewers and rivers. Based on an average of three loads of washing a week, the filter will last for two months. But we’ve thought of the next step, too, which involves responsible recycling. In fact, we’ve concluded a deal based on a deposit-return scheme with the Dutch retail chain Zeeman. When shoppers bring in their used filter, they receive a new one. Once enough filters have been collected, they’re sent back to the manufacturer for recycling and reuse.”

Washing machine filter by MarcelvangalenDesign,
ABN AMRO
Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. So what’s next on the agenda?

“We’re currently facing our biggest challenge: making consumers aware of the problem and showing them that together we can do something about it. Looking at the bigger picture, we see that in Europe alone, we do 39 trillion loads of washing a year. Multiply that by 20 million. That’s insane. After all, we’ve only got one planet. I find myself increasingly asking, ‘What in the world are we all doing?’ We’re ready to move with this design. If we have to, we’ll be taking it to market in eight months’ time. But we just can’t do it alone. We need major stakeholders like Bosch, Siemens, Miele or – even better – the state to help us.”

So how are you raising awareness among consumers and big companies?

“The first thing is that consumers have to want to buy the filter. So we’ve come up with a solution that relies on the Internet of Things. The water authority will be able to see which households are using a filter, and those users will be rewarded with a lower rate of tax, for instance. We’re also in talks with the leading washing machine manufacturers. It would be great if they end up making machines which already come equipped with the filter so that consumers don’t have to go out and buy one themselves. Unfortunately, though, talks like these are a very long and drawn-out process, and time is something we don’t really have a lot of at the moment. We have to act today – not in ten or twenty years from now.”

Check all the Game Changers here.