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Innovative startup develops simple solution to laundry machines polluting waterways: 'We are creating next-gen filtration devices'

"You can just load it like a normal washing machine load and then run the cycle."

"You can just load it like a normal washing machine load and then run the cycle."

Photo Credit: iStock

Two entrepreneurs on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list want to help make your washed laundry even cleaner. 

Julia Yan and Sarah Beth Gleeson started Philadelphia-based Baleena as an answer to the menacing microplastics that are turning up in the wash by the millions. Their solution is a filter that fits in the drums of existing washing machines with a less-than-five-minute installation. 

"Let's wash our T-shirts, not eat them," Yan said in a story by Michigan Advance (MA). The seemingly odd quote has basis because microplastics are accumulating in our oceans and, in turn, in our seafood. 

The journal Nature reports that the plastic-fiber clothing we wear is the main source of microplastics in the seas. Up to 1.5 million microfibers can be released during a wash. Some of them even end up in our bodies, potentially during your last visit to the local seafood buffet. 

While very tiny — less than 5 millimeters — their impact on our bodies is of high concern for scientists. Grist reports that the pollution may even be impacting our hormones. 

The answer, according to Baleena's founders, starts in the laundry room. 

"We are creating next-gen filtration devices to reduce that pollution coming from textiles in the supply chain, and we start with individual consumers with a hardware product," Gleeson said in the MA story. 

The quotes were pulled from a recent presentation when the entrepreneurs accepted a first-place, $20,000 prize from the Great Lakes AquaHacking Challenge for their filter. Ten finalists made their case before judges at Northwestern Michigan College with solutions for PFAS, lead contamination, microplastics, and nutrient problems. 

Baleena's filter is ingenious because of its simplicity. It uses the motion from existing washing machines to catch microplastics during operation. It's a pill-shaped contraption with grilled sides. 

"You can just load it like a normal washing machine load and then run the cycle," Gleeson told MA. It costs less than a yearly New York Times subscription, the business owners claim on the company website. 

Forbes notes that Yan and Gleeson are targeting "young, environmentally conscious consumers." They already secured $460,000 in pre-seed funding, per the report. 

Yan, the CEO, has degrees in engineering. Gleeson, also an engineer, did a summer internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory before becoming Baleena's CTO. Both graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2022. 

They aren't the only ones interested in filtering microplastics from washers. Scientists at Germany's University of Bonn are developing a fish-gill inspired filter that would be installed in machines. 

Even mainstream brands like Crocs and others are implementing more sustainable programs to recycle synthetic products so they don't end up in a landfill or the ocean. Your buying power can aid the efforts when you support businesses that have the planet's best interest in mind. 

In fact, you can help to keep plastic pollution from leaching into the world right from your own laundry room, as Baleena's founders see it. 

"Grateful to the community of people who have supported us and brought us to this point. This is for you!" Gleeson posted on LinkedIn. "We'll keep working together to make a positive impact." 

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