(376am) Investigation of Oceanic Microfiber Pollution and Development of Inexpensive Filtration Units to Reduce That from Residential and Commercial Washing Machines

Smith, R., The Cooper Union
Savizky, R., The Cooper Union
Polymer-based clothing, such those composed of nylon and polyester, contribute to a significant percentage of all micron-scale oceanic plastic pollution in the form of microfibers. These microfibers fall off clothes during the high RPM and vigorous shaking of a typical washing machine unit, and exit in the wastewater expelled from the units during the washing cycle. Too small to be filtered out by municipal septic systems, these microfibers enter natural bodies of water and act like micro- sponges for organic compounds. Furthermore, these fibers are also ingested or inhaled by marine life that may also be consumed by humans. This research seeks to investigate the effects of polymer distribution in clothing material, load size, clothing age, and cycle type on the number of microfibers that leave washing machines in an average cycle. Preliminary research obtained by microscopic analysis has estimated one 80% polyester, 20% nylon jacket to contribute between .02 - .07 ± .016 g/L of mircofibers to the wastewater of a typical washing machine cycle. In addition to quantifying the mass of microfiber pollution, simultaneous research is also being performed on developing inexpensive membrane separators that can reduce the amount of microfiber pollution. Current research, also using microscopic analysis, has found both cellulose and sand as microfiltration membranes to be sufficient at removing 95 – 99% of all microfibers in washing machine wastewater. Further studies to scale these filters are being performed, with heavy consideration towards their durability, longevity, and ease to clean and repair.