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Patagonia Taps Tech Giant to Fight Microplastic Pollution

In an industry that has conceivably reached peak collaboration, one crossover might blow them out of the water.

That would be Patagonia x Samsung, though the pairing is less about drumming up hype than it is agitating for environmental good.

Announced Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show, a massive trade conference and exhibition in Las Vegas, the team-up between the two companies centers not on a sneaker or tracksuit but rather a washing machine, one that minimizes the number of microfibers that seep into waterways through laundering.

Microplastic pollution has been an ongoing concern for Patagonia, a certified B Corp that promotes sustainability as a cornerstone of its business. A groundbreaking study it commissioned in 2016 found that one of its polyester fleece jackets can discharge up to 250,000 tiny slivers of plastic during a single wash. Because they’re less than 0.2 inches long, microplastics slip past regular filters into municipal wastewater systems and then into rivers, oceans and the stomachs of seabirds and other marine animals, often with harmful consequences.

Since then, Patagonia has kept microfibers among its “top five” priority issues, it previously told Sourcing Journal. As a bridging measure, Patagonia’s investment arm, Tin Shed Ventures, showered money on Guppy Friend, which makes mesh laundry bags that trap microfibers as clothes are wrung through the wash. Patagonia sells them on its website, though there is currently a waiting list.

The problem with microplastics is they’re so pervasive, infiltrating the highest mountains and the deepest trenches. More than 80 percent of tap water samples contain traces of microplastics. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that humans ingest the equivalent of one credit card of plastic every week through the air we breathe and the water we drink. Of the seawater samples recently gathered in the Arctic, most of them contained microfibers of clothing and textile origin.

“In business, we can no longer spoil the earth and expect others to pay for the cleanup,” Vincent Stanley, director of philosophy at Patagonia, said in a pre-recorded message at the CES event. “We must all do our part to make long-lasting functional products in a responsible way. Patagonia is no exception.”

Patagonia and Samsung are teaming up to develop a washing machine, announced at CES, that minimizes the number of microfibers released through laundering.

CES CEO Gary Shapiro at Samsung’s keynote on Jan. 4, 2022

Samsung’s engineers, Stanley said, have taken the challenge “to heart,” developing a washing machine that can filter out microplastic waste and keep them from entering the environment without compromising performance. Neither company has announced a launch date for the appliance, but Stanley said initial conversations started a few months ago and “progress is quick.”

“This is a perfect example of the kind of collaboration we all need to help turn the tide of climate change and restore nature to health,” he added. “And we’re so grateful for the work Samsung’s people are doing.”

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