Enzyme driven performance enhancement of laundry detergents: reducing the associated environmental burden

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Natural Sciences & Env Sciences


The project aims to reduce the environmental burden of laundry across three main research areas; developing enzymatic solutions to increase the longevity of clothing, creating a novel methodology to quantify the release of plastic microfibres, and determining the fate of textile associated plastic in the environment. The project will develop novel methodologies in each of these areas to improve the sustainability of the textile industry.

By creating enzymatic solutions targeting specific regions within textiles it will allow enzymes to be engineered making them more efficient. This will be achieved by determining the physiochemical interactions between enzymes and the textile surface utilising novel technologies, increasing the longevity of clothing. By increasing a garments lifespan, it will help reduce the rapid rate of clothing being discarded by consumers.

In the current absence of no standardised protocol, a novel methodology simulating full-scale washing that can more accurately quantify plastic microfibre release could be used by industry to determine microfibre release rates, but also highlight the key drivers of release that will inform mitigation strategies.

Plastic microfibres that are released during laundry can be found entering the environment in large quantities. Determining the fate of these plastic materials by designing metagenomic (large quantities of genetic data) analysis tools and creating unique protocols for investigating substrates with potential plastic degrading microbes, will highlight the microbial community associated with plastic in environmental conditions. From this, species can be targeted for enzymatic engineering, for example increasing the temperature at which these enzymes are optimal may increase the degradation rate in highly crystalline polymers. Enzymes characterised could be used by industry to engineer biodegradation solutions to plastic recycling.


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Kelly MR (2019) Importance of Water-Volume on the Release of Microplastic Fibers from Laundry. in Environmental science & technology

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R512588/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1949688 Studentship EP/R512588/1 01/10/2017 30/12/2021 Max Richard Kelly
Description Our research into the understanding of the drivers of plastic microfibre release during laundry has revealed some interesting and counter-intuitive findings. Surprisingly, delicate cycles increased microfibre release by 800,000 fibres compared to 'normal' wash cycles. This is due to the higher water-to-volume-ratio and lower spin speeds used in these cycles which pluck microfibres from the garments.
Exploitation Route We developed a new small-scale methodology for testing microfibre release during laundry that can more accurately quantify small amounts of fibres.

Furthermore, the research can inform the general public on how to reduce the release of plastic microfibres when they carry out laundry. Firstly by avoiding delicate cycles for every day washing. But also by using full wash loads to prevent the larger volumes of water removing more microfibres from fewer garments. The research can also help inform industrial practices such as garment manufacturing or washing machine manufacturing. We found newer garments release more fibres so a wash step after garment manufacturing could help reduce the release of fibres. We are also seeing a transition in areas of the globe that used traditional large water consuming machines to smaller efficient counter-parts.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail

URL https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/26/vicious-cycle-delicate-wash-releases-more-plastic-microfibres
Description The findings have featured across global media outlets informing the public and industry in laundry best practices.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal