Conversation with Mojca Zupan, founder of PlanetCare
If you do check your clothing label, you will find words like “polyester,” “nylon,” “polyamide,” “acrylic", all commonly used in clothing.
When these textiles are manufactured, washed with your laundry, worn, or dried, they release these tiny plastic fibers in the water and the air. They are found in almost everything we eat and drink. They have deeply entered our food chain, of which we are at the top, so the risk for us is even higher.
However, we all struggle to fully eliminate synthetic fibers from our wardrobe. They are in everything, from underwear to fleece. A single load of washed clothing could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment, according to a study led by Plymouth University.
They are however solutions to avoid releasing these microfibers into the environment while washing our clothes. One of our favorites solutions is PlanetCare, a filter that you attach to your washing machine to capture microfibers. The best part is the closed-loop solution the company offers, to catch, and reuse these microfibers.
The URBAG® team speaks to Mojca Zupan, Founder of PlanetCare about the start of her journey, the opportunities and challenges she faces when bringing such an innovative solution to the market, and her plans for 2022.
Hi Mojca, we're so thrilled to be able to speak about your journey and PlanetCare. Tell us more about you and what was your background coming into this?
Hi, first let me thank you for helping us raise awareness of the invisible
I am a lawyer by education, and was a corporate lawyer by profession for several years.
As a mother of three, I once took my kids to a touring photo exhibition about marine litter. That
was the first time I saw a microscope image of plastic fibres. Aside of many horrifying
images of the visible, big, plastic pollution.
The sight of tiny microfibres reminded me of a very different project I was involved in which required filtering of natural fibres.
After learning about the scale of the microfibre pollution issue I felt compelled to try to develop that technology to capture microfibres coming from washing your clothes.
How did you come up with the idea?
Well, as mentioned above – sometimes very different things and experiences connect just at
the right moment.
As a lawyer back then, I worked for a client that was developing some (albeit entirely different) filtering solutions and the thought occurred to me that maybe we could try and find a solution to filter microfibres out of the laundry waste water.
What was the pivotal moment in this adventure where you decided to leave your career behind and dedicate your time and energy to this project?
As no effective solution was available on the market, I saw no other alternative but to leave my
corporate lawyer career and set up PlanetCare. That was in 2017.
You mentioned the difficulty of introducing and commercialising an innovative product to fight a problem that people weren't really aware of at the time. How did you build awareness and educate people? What was your branding journey?
Initially our business model was b2b – business to business. There are only about 30 washing
machine producers worldwide, so we developed the first built-in filter for washing machines
and we were certain the producers would be happy to build it in their machines.
35% of microfibre problem would be solved that way– that, namely, is the share of microfibres in the oceans that originate from our laundry.
However, we were mistaken. Too early with the idea, I suppose, so we had to take the long road – starting to build the awareness of the problem first with the broader, general public.
We talked (and still do!) to everyone – the fashion industry, the academia, the press, NGOs, independent research institutions, public regulators, and the end user, of course. So we developed a retro-fit filter that can be easily mounted to any washing machine and catches the microfibres before they are released into waste waters.
This is the model we are currently selling in our web-store, while at the same time we develop an improved version of the built-in filter.
But to answer your question about branding journey in short – regardless of the business model, be it b2b or b2c, we have always known we don't want to have a no-name filter. PlanetCare microfibre filters were born as the best and most efficient solution there is and the only one with the completely closed loop! But the journey is long and, well, costly.
Marketing communication in its classical sense is something we can absolutely not afford, so we mostly count on our own communication channels, and all the free publicity we can get. So thank
you for this conversation, again.
We love the idea, I'm really pleased something like this is out there. How was the reaction and what feedback have you had from customers so far?
Most love it, of course! We have a dedicated Ocean Heroes Community and these heroes
really act as our best ambassadors. And the feedback we get very often is also 'This should
be mandatory'; or 'This should be built in every washing machine'.
And we couldn't agree more. On both points.
The circularity and the closed-loop system of PlanetCare is an essential part of the solution. Why would you capture microfibers if you then have to discard them in your bin?
Are you still planning to create insulation mats with the captured fibers, and how much microfibers will be required?
Yes, that is still the plan, we are actively searching for other options, as well. We
have several good leads such as recycling like other plastics, or use as fibre reinforcement in concrete weights used in washing machines for example. But we are still looking for a use where
fibres would be visible to tell a story.
You've managed to change the policy in France, where filters will be mandatory from 2025. Do you think the UK will follow?
Yes, the story with France is big and much bigger than just PlanetCare. There was a strong
agenda, and still a break-through!
As for UK, we hope so. I believe there are some serious initiatives on their way and we keep our fingers crossed!
What are the plans for 2022?
We are very excited about the launch of a new improved version of our external filter. It will
bring new functionality making it even easier and practical to use. It will sport a completely
new sleek design you will want to make visible.
In addition, we are very actively working with our industrial partners to put an integrated
filter into the next generation of washing machines. We hope to have some good news soon.
PlanetCare is a small and very passionate group of enthusiasts, coming from very different backgrounds and united through the same cause – caring about our planet. PlanetCare filter is the first washing machine filter with scientifically proven efficiency to stop 90% of microfibers with every laundry wash. It is also the only closed-loop solution, making sure that no microfibers get released into the environment. Ever.