Household laundry a suspected source of microplastic particles in Metro Vancouver’s wastewater

A study jointly conducted by Ocean Wise and Metro Vancouver, and published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, indicates Canadian households may have a laundry problem.

The study, the first of its kind in the country, documented microplastic particles in a Metro Vancouver wastewater treatment plant, with 71 per cent of being fibres such as polyester and modified cellulose (Rayon). This raises important questions about the role that household laundry plays in releasing microplastics in the liquid waste that enters Metro Vancouver’s wastewater treatment plants.

“Every time clothing is washed, tiny strands of fabric break off and go down the drain. Research has shown that microplastics in the ocean are being mistaken for food by zooplankton and fish, raising concerns about impacts to their health,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Peter Ross, vice-president of research at Ocean Wise.

The study, which used new methods for the quantification and identification of plastic particles, found that Metro Vancouver’s treatment plants filter out up to 99 per cent of the 1.8 trillion microplastic particles received in wastewater each year. However, a significant amount of microplastic pollution still makes it into the ocean.

“This addresses a critical need in understanding the problem of microplastic pollution,” adds Ross. “Metro Vancouver is the first regional utility in Canada to flag microplastics as an emerging issue in wastewaster. Having this information is a vital first step in understanding some of the sources of microplastics in the ocean and provides practical guidance as we work together to find and implement solutions.”

Metro Vancouver partnered with Ocean Wise to gain scientific insight and guidance into the emerging topic of microplastic pollution. Additional research is underway to more fully understand the problem and potential mitigation strategies.

“As a regional utility, we need to better understand microplastic pollution and the role our wastewater treatment plants play in preventing environmental impacts,” says Darrell Mussatto, Metro Vancouver’s Chair of the Utilities Committee. “These results clearly demonstrate our wastewater treatment facilities are highly effective in keeping most of these harmful particles out of our oceans, but we can all do better by simply changing our laundry habits.”

Residents can do their part to reduce microplastic pollution by:

·         Doing laundry less frequently when possible

·         Using front-loading laundry machines (which cause clothes to shed four times fewer fibres than top-loading washing machines)

·         Using cold water

·         Using less soap

·         Installing a lint trap or lint filter on your washing machine’s discharge hose


The Ocean Wise Plastics Lab, established in 2014, is an environmental microplastics facility that uses high-end instrumentation to detect and quantify microplastics in environmental samples. The Lab maintains a high resolution Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometer to identify plastic polymers in fragment and fibres down to 5 microns (0.005 mm) in size, and employs 12 research staff working on microplastics in wastewater treatment, home laundry, seawater, zooplankton, mussels, and ocean food webs.

The study, Retention of Microplastics in a Major Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant in Vancouver, Canada, was published last week in Marine Pollution Bulletin, an international scientific journal. It can be found online here.


  1. Emissions of fibres from clothes via sewage was shown years ago, why is this even news? What is the evidence that any of the suggested procedures to reduce emissions of fibres actually work? It seems the article is suggesting actions without providing robust evidence that they work.

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