How clean water do you really need to wash your clothes? Mimbly’s water-circulating system recycles greywater until that threshold is crossed – and also recovers microplastics .

“The purpose of our solution is to use water more wisely, and to prevent microplastics from reaching the oceans”, Emil Vestman says. Photo: Mimbly.

“The Mimbox solves more than one problem. First of all, it addresses our overconsumption of clean water and the release of microplastics into our lakes and oceans”, says Emil Vestman, Chief Design Officer at Mimbly, a company that wants to make the textile lifecycle less resource intensive and more sustainable.

Much can be said about textile recycling and sustainable production methods – but as a matter of fact, two thirds of the environmental impact from our clothes can be traced to the use phase. In the garment lifecycle, three quarters of the energy consumption and half the water consumption can be attributed to washing, drying and ironing. A single laundry can use 60 liters of water. Furthermore, it is estimated than more than a third of the microplastics that accumulate in oceans and ecosystems comes from the washing of synthetic fabrics in water.

The Mimbox system is connected to one or several washing machines, and recycles the waste water. The innovation originated from the question: is it really necessary to use clean drinking water to wash clothes?

Water is filtered and circulated

The water is first filtered from particles and microfibers. Then an automatic quality control is performed: if the water meets a certain set of requirements, it is treated and stored in a tank instead of being released down the drain. When the connected washing machines need more water, the treated water from the storage tank is used as the first choice.

The company is reluctant to say exactly how the analysis is performed, but assures that washing results with the Mimbox are entirely satisfactory. Between 50 and 70 percent of the water can be recycled, saving energy and reducing water consumption into the system. At the same time, the filter recovers microplastics and prevents it from reaching the drain. The Mimbox filter is developed to have long life with minimum maintenance.

“We have noticed something significant: that we actually don’t have to use water pure enough to drink to achieve adequately clean clothes. Our philosophy is that we want to make a simple and cost-efficient solution that can benefit as many people as possible”, Emil Vestman says.

Hand-picked by IKEA

The Mimbox connects to washing machines, and filters, treats and recirculates the greywater for as long as it is clean enough. The prolonged use reduces water consumption, removes microplastics and saves energy. The Mimbox also gathers visualizable data. Illustration: Mimbly.

Development of the product was accelerated with help from IKEA: In 2017, Mimbly was selected to participate in their accelerator programme for startup companies, IKEA Bootcamp, as the only one from Sweden. It was an important experience which got them off the ground, according to Vestman:

“Our cooperation with IKEA taught us a lot about how a large company would approach product development. To be able to find basically every relevant competence in the same building really accelerated our concept and advanced our product.”

The system is currently in a small-scale demonstration and evaluation phase. Mimbly has opted to test the product primarily with resource-heavy consumers: industrial laundry services, hotels and laundry rooms in housing associations.

“We have built a number of iterations of the Mimbox. In the phase we are in now, we are planning to deploy about ten prototypes at the facilities of pilot customers around Sweden. Initially, we are focusing on professional laundry and in Sweden. Of course, our ultimate goal is to make an impact in the regions of the world where water scarcity is an even worse problem”, Emil Vestman says.

Where water and development issues meet

For Hans Rosling, professor and co-founder of Gapminder, the washing wachine was the prime showpiece of labour-saving technology and development; anyone who can afford one will get one, he noted. At the same time, Asia and Africa, the regions where most people are rising out of poverty and getting the means to get one are the same regions where water scarcity is most acute, and where 90 percent of the plastics in the oceans originate from.

“These are global issues and without strong initiatives to turn the tide around the environmental effect will be catastrophic. Ground water levels are falling all over the world, and hundreds of thousands tonnes of microplastics reach the oceans every year, accumulating in the food chain”, Emil Vestman says.

In Sweden, where water is abundant, the water issue often takes backstage. But the fact that reduced water consumption is not an immediate selling point on the local market is just spurring the company to develop the technology even further:

“If we can create a solution that works on this market we must really be on to something”, Emil Vestman says. He points out that a launch in Sweden provides other benefits instead:

“There is an immense goodwill and ambition for progress in Sweden. The water issue may look foreign, but public awareness of environmental issues in general is very high, and the Mimbox is highly valued on other grounds, such as microplastics and the energy saving effect of recycling hot water. In the end, it often is a question of economics, and our system saves money for customers – so that is a strong incentive, too.”

The company is solely applying the technology to washing machines right now, but that is not an inherent limitation:

“A smart water cycling system can provide the same kind of benefits in any application that generates greywater”, Emil Vestman concludes.

The article was published in November 2018.