Doing laundry is a boring if necessary chore for most people. Then there are the founders of Cleveland-based startup CLEANR, who spend most days trying to mitigate the negative environmental impacts produced by a typical load of wash.
CLEANR, based out of the Think[box] makerspace at Case Western Reserve University, is a developer of filtration technology designed to keep plastic microfibers from flowing into sewer systems during the laundry cycle.
When brought to market in early 2024, the high-tech solution will ideally cut down on harmful plastic from clothing, bedding and other textiles, which account for 35 percebt of microplastic pollution in the world's oceans. Though only 5 millimeters in length, these tiny polyester and acrylic threads make a big mess — about 2.2 million tons of plastic microfiber enter our waterways every year.
"Everyone can get behind a problem this big to scale a solution that will make an impact," said CEO Max Pennington, who launched CLEANR in 2021 alongside fellow Case Western students David Dillman and Chip Miller. "As soon as I learned about [microfiber pollution], it's something I dedicated my life to solving."
The CLEANR crew is not alone in this environmentally focused endeavor, noted Pennington, a Cincinnati native with a chemical engineering degree from Case Western. In April, the nascent company partnered with GKD Group, a German-based producer of mesh filtration.
Via the team-up, CLEANR will have a filtration manufacturing base ahead of pending environmental regulations in Europe. At the start of 2025, France will require all newly built washing machines to have a microfiber filtering device. Several states — California, Illinois and Oregon — are pondering similar regulations to address the problem of microfiber pollution from laundry.
CLEANR investor and board chair Terry Moore, whose background includes consulting work and a senior leadership position with Accenture, became intrigued with the technology upon learning about the enduring health impacts of ingesting plastic through drinking water. While scientists are still studying these outcomes, consumption of microfibers can negatively affect the immune system as well as childhood development.
"The more I learned, the more concerned I got," Moore said. "The opportunity to do something about it from the ground floor up is super exciting."