Every time we do laundry, our clothes shed tiny, unseen microfibers which go down the drains of our washing machines into our water bodies. Just one fleece jacket could shed up to 250,000 pieces of microfibers per wash. With the increased use of synthetic plastic fibers in our clothing, the plastic problem takes a large turn for the worse in a minuscule way. The Cora Ball was made to solve this problem by taking inspiration from the very organisms affected by microfibers. The product was designed using biomimicry by emulating the way a coral reef naturally filters tiny particles from flowing water. While I’m impressed by the product's innovative nature, third-party credibility, and cause-related mission, these aspects don’t distract me from a few problematic holes of information within the manufacturing process and workplace environment. If Cora Ball responded to my inquiry regarding these gaps, its score could’ve been higher.
Before getting into what the Cora Ball is made of, it’s important to understand what exactly it does. Most washing machines do not have filters, besides the ones that stop keys, coins, and other miscellaneous objects from clogging pipes. This is because it’s extremely hard to create a filter that catches fibers too small for the human eye while allowing water to flow freely. Instead, the Cora Ball swooshes around a laundry machine and catches tiny microfibers in its stalks without affecting water flow. When you have tangles big enough to grab, you just move the stalks to the side and pinch the tangles to pull them out like a hairbrush. Independent tests investigating the effectiveness of the Cora Ball out of the University of Toronto and University of Plymouth showed the Cora Ball prevents between 26% and 31% of microfibers from flowing down the drain. The University of Plymouth study also found that the Cora Ball helped reduce overall shedding to enhance the longevity of clothing. Cora Ball goes above and beyond by supporting the effectiveness of its product with third-party research. However, Cora Ball’s explanation of what the product is made of is fairly elementary. The Cora Ball is made of 100% recycled and 100% recyclable soft and stretchy plastic. Besides stating that the color of the product is dependent on the recycling market, that's about all Cora Ball has to say regarding product ingredients.
Following the trend of product ingredient vagueness in the previous section, Cora Ball doesn’t give much information about the manufacturing of it’s laundry ball. The website states, “The Cora Ball is made 100% in the USA with manufacturing, assembly and fulfillment happening in Vermont.” While domestic production is a plus because it cuts back on transportation emissions, I still have many unanswered questions. For example, where does Cora Ball source its plastic from? Considering China is the largest producer of plastic, producing approximately 31% of all plastic, this leads me to believe that Cora Ball may be sourcing its plastic overseas. On the other hand, the global recycling market may skew significantly from the plastic market. Because most industry research focuses on where recyclable plastic goes to instead of where it comes from, its Cora Ball’s responsibility to be as detail-oriented as possible in such a niche field. Another question I have is how energy-intensive it is to make a Cora Ball and what energy the Cora Ball manufacturing plant uses. While one ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 Kwh of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million BTU's of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space, the energy and resources used to reuse plastic should be considered. I tried contacting Cora Ball to answer some of these questions and waited a week without response, another worrisome sign showing lack of transparency.
A lot of “environmentally-friendly” companies start with a product and then attach a cause of philanthropic mission. Surprisingly, Cora Ball did the opposite. In 2009, Rachel Miller was sailing off the coast of Maine and was devastated by the amount of plastic that surrounded her and her husband. She then founded the Rozalia Project, which leads water and ocean stewardship activities on cleanup, education, solution-based research, and innovation. Despite the impact that the Rozalia Project was making, Miller still felt that there was no solution for the miniscule microfibers that caused a large problem. In response, she assembled James Lyne, a professional sailor and co-founder of the Rozalia Project and Brook Winslow, a ocean engineering and environmental science student, to find a solution. With the help of a $350,000-plus Kickstarter campaign, Cora Ball was spun out from the Rozalia Project. Cora Ball also shows its a cause-driven company by including a robust and organized page on its website posting leading microfiber research. Without discounting the extremely positive aspects of the company itself, I still have some questions regarding the workplace environment. I’d specifically like to know if factory workers receive a living wage, paid time off, healthcare and other benefits, and whether or not Cora Ball has diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in place. Considering the equivalent of more than 30 million water bottles worth of plastic could be kept out of waterways if 10% of U.S. households used a Cora Ball, I’d still recommend purchasing this product.