PolyGone founder Rachel Baldwin

The threat of microfibres in our water – and one company’s solution

If you’re environmentally conscious, it’s likely you’ve heard about the environmental harm caused by microbeads. Microbeads are often found in exfoliating face and body scrubs, and because they are made of plastic, they don’t dissolve in the water when washed away – causing them to stick around in our waterways.

Microbeads are one type of pollution, under the category of microplastic pollution. However, what you might not know is that microbeads make up only 4% of the microplastic pollution problem. Microfibres, another type of pollution, makes up 96% of total microplastic contamination, yet this was only recently discovered as a serious problem. The source of microfibres come from synthetic materials found in everything from dishcloths to clothing, and when we do our laundry, microfibres break loose and are washed into the water system during the rinse cycle. Microfibres are harmful to the ecosystem, to fish, and to us; they are turning up in tap water, and even processed foods and beverages. The research and understanding of the problem are still relatively new, which makes regulating microfibre pollution much harder, especially with synthetics textiles dominating the market.

Enter PolyGone, an all-women powered team of environmentalists and University of Waterloo graduates. Lauren Smith, Lauren Yee, Joanna Hausen, Sabrina Li, and Rachel Baldwin have identified the problem with microfibres, and are developing two possible solutions. The first is a sheet to put in with a load of laundry (similar to a dryer sheet) that would capture microfibres and be reusable. The second product in development is a filter which would be attached to the washing machine and would have a higher capture rate because all water in the cycle would filter through it. The filter also has industrial applications for companies who want to keep microfibres out of their products.

The team formed at an AquaHacking competition in May, once Co-founder Lauren Smith heard that 2017’s theme revolved around innovative solutions to help solve Lake Erie’s water issues.

“Having grown up close to Lake Erie, I am really attached to the water. My Masters was in Sustainability Management with a water specialization; and that prepared me to be open to a competition about protecting water.” – Lauren Smith, Co-founder of PolyGone

Now, they are a part of the Velocity Science program and recently won $2,500 in funding at the Problem Pitch Competition this past October.

“I never thought I would end up at Velocity because I never thought I would have a startup! There is so much support from Velocity, from materials that we need, to getting legal advice. We really started with nothing, just open minds and ideas, and everything took off from there.”

Looking to the future, the team still has lots of lab work to do before getting a prototype out to show companies. Their goal is to have a completed prototype by Spring 2018. Though some competition currently exists in this market, such as the Guppy Friend and the Cora Ball, PolyGone wants to create a product with the highest capture rate possible using unique technology and design. To learn more about PolyGone, check out their website, their Facebook, and their Twitter.