In recognition of Plastic Free July, we meet Mojca Zupan, the founder of PlanetCare, a company who is tackling the problem of microplastics from laundry ending up in our seas and harming marine life.
Can you tell us what PlanetCare does and the products you offer?
At PlanetCare we are changing the way we do laundry by making it microplastic-free. The fact is that every one of us throws a plastic bag worth of microfibers into the oceans every week simply by washing clothes – 35% of all microplastic in the oceans comes from our washing machines. To stop this pollution we have developed the first microfiber filter for your washing machine with a closed-loop service. By offering a circular solution we ensure that no fibers pollute the environment. PlanetCare filter stops 90% of the fibers that shed during every wash.
The filter is based on physical filtration, and no chemicals are used at any stage of the process. You simply attach it to your washing machine and you are ready to protect the oceans. The installation is easy and quick. Anyone can do it. It takes about 10 minutes and no special tools or skills are needed. We also have several videos that guide you through all installation steps. It was very important to me to offer a solution that’s effective and easy to use.
We offer starter packages for 60 or 120 loads of laundry, where you receive the filter housing and cartridges. And we also offer a subscription. It’s perfect for those who wash about 20 loads per month and want a completely hassle-free service. You pay a monthly fee and receive new cartridges whenever you run out. It’s very simple and convenient.
And when your cartridges are full we collect them free of charge for refurbishment: we reuse 95% and collect 5% for recycling. The future is circular and we want to offer and model that.
We also developed a commercial filter, which is ideal for the service industry where washing machines are working round the clock.
What motivated you to start PlanetCare?
It all started in 2017 when I was still a lawyer. I had a client dealing with industrial greywater, so I got a little bit of insight into the filtration issue. Around the same time, I visited a touring photo exhibition about marine litter in my hometown of Ljubljana. This is where I first realised I am sending microplastics into the oceans just because I wash clothes. And I could not just accept that. Ultimately, these plastic microfibers enter the food chain and end up on our plates. After exploring the market, I realised there wasn’t an effective solution to this problem, so I quit my job and founded PlanetCare.
Can you tell us more about microfibers and the problems they cause?
Today, over 60% of clothes are made from synthetic fabrics – think polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc. And every time we wash these clothes, they shed plastic microfibers, which then go down the drain and into the environment. Researchers found that an average 6 kg load of laundry releases over 700,000 microfibers into the wastewater.
And while the fibers are small, the numbers add up. Every year 1.5 million tonnes of microplastics end up in the world’s oceans. 35% of these are plastic microfibers, coming from our washing machines.
They recently analysed seawater samples from the Arctic, and 96 of 97 of them contained microplastic. Over 92% of the microplastics were microfibres, and of these, the majority (73%) were made of polyester. The width and colours of these microfibers were the same as those used in clothes. Majority of the samples were taken from 3-8 metres below the surface, where a lot of marine life feeds.
The fact is that microplastics are in the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe and that can’t do much good to our health.
How will using a PlanetCare Microfibre filter help eco conscious consumers have a positive impact?
By using a PlanetCare microfiber filter you will stop 90% of microfibers from going down the drain, into the oceans and onto our plates. Even if you don’t wash too often or don’t have many synthetic clothes, there is still a significant amount of fibers going from your washing machine into the nature unless you filter the water.
You can stop about 52 plastic bags worth of plastic microfibers each year, which goes a long way toward preventing this pollution. But it’s so much more than “just” stopping this pollution. You are also fuelling policy change.
We envision a future in which every washing machine, new or existing, domestic or commercial, has a pollution-stopping filter. And the joint impact of PlanetCare and our community has already had direct effect on policy change.
Together, we’re showing policymakers it can be done and we’ve already been successful in changing laws. France was the first to pass a law under which all new washing machines will have to have a filter from January 2025 onwards.
And who wouldn’t want to be a part of the community that is changing the world?
You are totally committed to the circular economy. Can you tell us how you apply this principle in your business?
Filtering out the microfibers is only the first step, really. It’s what then happens with these microfibers that really counts. That’s why we offer a closed loop service to all our customers.
We collect all used cartridges free of charge for refurbishment. 95% of the cartridge is reused and fitted with a new filtering medium. And 5%, the filtering medium with the caught fibers, is collected for recycling.
We’ve identified a solution to turn these filtering mediums into insulation mats but are constantly looking for the most viable option to repurpose them. Landfilling or incineration are not an option.
Here at Greenscents we have always believed in third party certification. Can you tell us about your approach to testing and partnerships?
Needless to say, we test our filter all the time. But it’s the independent third-party testing that’s crucial for validation and full transparency. That’s why we have our filters tested all the time. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency tested them in 2019 and in 2020. Both times they found that PlanetCare is the best solution available on the market. The National Institute of Chemistry, Slovenia and the Italian National Research Council have also tested our filters.
Partnerships are equally as important. This is a big, global problem, and we need all hands on deck. We’re immensely grateful for the partnership network that we’re a part of. The only way we’ll turn the tide on microfiber pollution is together.
Do you think it’s important that people choose organic laundry and cleaning products?
Yes. I am a mother and I go to great lengths to keep my home free of anything synthetic and harmful. And I have to say it’s wonderful to see how many options are available now. I am always looking for new products and services that are better for my family and the environment.
But it’s a balancing act, for sure and the best option is not always most easily available or most financially accessible. So there’s definitely still work that needs to be done, but things are moving in the right direction and that’s what makes me hopeful for the future.