Women of the Collaborative Water Program are stemming the plastic tide in Lake Erie

Monday, July 31, 2017

Microplastics contribute an estimated 10,000 metric tons of plastic debris that end up in our Great Lakes every year. These tiny particles of plastic, less than five millimeters in size, can come from things like hand soap, toothpaste, makeup, and even clothing. They are particularly concerning, because their small size and buoyancy allow a number of them to slip through water treatment filters, making their way into our waterways and food chain.

A group of women from the Water Institute’s Collaborative Water Program are tackling this issue in the 2017 AquaHacking competition. They are working towards creating an innovative product to capture microfibers that shed off clothing during the washing process in the laundry.

“We realised that microplastic pollution in our Great Lakes is becoming a very serious problem,” said Sabrina Li, Environmental Engineer and Collaborative Water Program student at the University of Waterloo. “We wanted to create a product that would be easy for customers to use and help reduce the microplastic pollution in Lake Erie.”

PolyGone team

Left to right: Raad Seraj, Senior Research Analysis at WaterTap, Rachel Baldwin, Lauren Smith, Claude Perras, Executive Director of the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, Joanna Hausen, Sabrina Li, Lauren Yee, and Ken Seiling, Regional Chair of Waterloo.

Their idea is to create a reusable sheet, made from recycled material, that will act as a filter in the wash attracting and “catching” microfibers as they float through laundry water. They hope the sheet can then be disposed of at a microplastic recycling centre such as TerraCycle or UpGyres, preventing more plastic from entering the waterways.

PolyGone hopes the simplicity and sustainability of their product is what customers will appreciate most. 

“There are two products currently available in the United States that tackle this specific issue,” said Sabrina. “One is a ball, made from synthetic materials with limited uses, and the other a bag that can only fit a small amount of clothing in it at a time. Our research shows a preference for a sheet or filter."

PolyGone team brainstorming

PolyGone at one of the AquaHacking challenge days, working on their idea.

The team will compete at the AquaHacking summit on September 13, against four other teams for a spot in a local incubator and $25,000 in funding.

Don’t miss a second of the excitement as teams prepare for the summit! Follow the journey online.

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