UK start-up Cleaner Seas Group has raised £1 million to further develop its washing machine filter for preventing the release of microplastic fibres.
- Cleaner Seas has developed a recyclable, self-generated filter that can be retrofitted or integrated into washing machines to capture microfibres as small as one micron.
- Up to 700,000 microfibres can be released from a single load of laundry, with devastating impacts on both environmental and human health.
- The extremely publicised nature of the plastics crisis will provide an alternative mechanism for driving investment in potential solutions.
Cleaner Seas Group, based in Cornwall, has raised almost £1 million in funding from angel investors, institutional investors and high net worth individuals. The start-up now aims to raise a further £460,000 through crowdfunding campaigns to help further its product development.
The product on offer is a microfibre filter that can be retrofitted or integrated into any washing machine. The Cleaner Seas Indikon-1 requires no mains power and comes as a cartridge that is returned to the company when full. Once the microfibres have been removed, the refurbished cartridge can be reused.
Initial tests by the University of Plymouth, supported by the European Regional Development Fund’s Marinei programme, have concluded that Cleaner Seas’ filter can effectively remove microfibre particles as small as one micron, with a capture rate of around 82%.
The problem with microplastics
Microplastics, defined as fragments of plastic less than 5mm in length, have become increasingly recognised as a significant global crisis.
In 2016 alone, around 1.3 million metric tons of microplastics were released into the environment, accounting for around 11% of total plastic leakage. Under a business-as-usual scenario, this leakage could rise to see 3 million trillion pieces of microplastic waste entering the ocean each year.
This pollution has severe impacts on surrounding ecosystems, with over 800 marine species already known to be affected.
Studies have found that microplastic particles can move through the gut walls of sea creatures to affect other tissues, and are transferred into aquatic food chains where they impact the growth, health and overall survival of a range of invertebrate and fish species. Furthermore, the prevalence of microplastics in our ocean could potentially reduce their capacity for sequestering CO2 emissions.
The effects of microplastics are not confined to the ocean, with further research revealing that microplastics have been found in human food supplies such as shellfish and bottled water. Perhaps most alarmingly, a 2022 study published in Environment International identified microplastic particles in human blood samples.
Consumer attitudes to the microplastics crisis
Media representations of microplastics as an emerging threat to both human and environmental health have translated scientific findings into widespread public concern. This awareness has been fueled further by the voices of public figures such as Stephen Fry, who provided a voiceover for an anti-plastic campaign by Common Seas, and actress Shailene Woodley, who has advocated against plastic pollution on behalf of Greenpeace.
The ongoing rise in public concern over microplastics can be seen through the plethora of campaigns and petitions that have emerged, such as the Plastic Soup Foundation’s Ocean Clean Wash and even an initiative led by the Women’s Institute.
Taking advantage of public concern
There is currently a major lack of funding dedicated to solving the plastics crisis, with estimates suggesting that an additional $600 billion will be needed.
Although this will, in part, be supported by an increase in legislation such as the introduction of the Global Plastics Treaty or the UK’s proposed Microplastic Filters Bill, Cleaner Seas is demonstrating how public concern can be taken advantage of to mobilise additional capital.
Firms that have succeeded in crowdfunding campaigns are likely to attract more experienced investors as they have been able to prove that the market for their solution is there.
Furthermore, crowdfunding alone could prove to be a significant source of investment, with the sector’s transaction value projected to reach $1.02 billion in 2022 following its 41% growth since 2021.
Cleaner Seas has evidently identified this opportunity, with CEO Dave Miller noting that, “there’s been immense public support for our product which helps address the unprecedented level of microplastics in our oceans, an issue that impacts on all of us. Through this crowd-fund we are giving people an opportunity to invest in our innovative system”.
Given the highly publicised nature of the microplastics crisis, it seems likely that consumers will rise to the occasion and help drive investment towards its solutions.