Invention Aims to Reduce Wash-Away Pollution
Rachael Miller, a Granville resident, who has long been committed to mitigating water pollution, recently launched a business initiative in an attempt to address the macro problem of microfiber pollution.
Last week, after years of designing, planning, and fundraising, Miller started officially selling the Cora Ball, an invention designed to catch tiny textile fragments—known as microfibers—found in washing machine wastewater.
Miller explained that washing machines have been identified as a primary source for microfiber pollution, which can be found in rivers, oceans, and, according to at least one study, in some drinking water supplies.
“The fibers are much smaller than a human hair,” said Miller, “I mean this problem is huge, but it’s invisible to the naked eye.”
Several studies have shown that a large percentage of microfibers are so small that they get released back into waterways, even after water is treated at wastewater treatment facilities.
“Once they’re back in the waterways, microfibers are being ingested by fish,” Miller noted, “or even plankton, which get eaten by whales and fish (including the fish we eat) so they really do make their way into the food chain.”
Although the long-term effects of textiles in the water systems still need to be researched, said Miller, it was important to her to start addressing the problem sooner rather than later.
“The problem of microfibers came to our attention in 2014,” said Miller, referencing the team at the Rozalia Project, a nonprofit she founded that addresses the issue of ocean pollution through education and research.
“We just felt that this problem was screaming at us. We caught on very quickly to the potential magnitude of this problem, and the need for a solution.”
She said unlike other micro pollution, which can often be addressed through legislation banning certain products, microfibers are difficult to control, because “you can’t ban your clothes from falling apart.”
“What’s interesting about the problem of microfiber pollution that’s different than marine debris in the bigger picture … is that everyone, even people who recycle or don’t litter, even people who feel distanced from the problem, everyone who wears and washes clothing contributes to the problem whether they like it or not.”
A common misconception, Miller said, is that only synthetic microfibers are harmful to the environment.
“People are more likely to hear about the problems caused by polyester and other synthetic fibers, and while these seem to be the most persistent fibers, [synthetics are] not the only fibers we’re concerned about.”
Miller explained that many, if not most, textiles are covered in some type of chemical, such as flame retardant, or wrinkle releasers.
“Unless your clothes are down-to-the-dye organic,” said Miller, “There’s something on your clothing we don’t want in our water.”
The Cora Ball can catch up to 35% of the fibers that would otherwise end up getting drained into wastewater systems, she added.
“We would have gone to market even if the Cora Ball was only getting 10% of the fibers,” said Miller, “Because it’s just so important that we start addressing the problem now. Hopefully, we’ll inspire more people to create more solutions for this problem.”
Inspired by the way coral filters ocean water, the Cora Ball removes microfibers from wastewater by tangling them together, explained Miller. “Eventually enough will be caught in the Cora Ball that you’ll be able to see little fuzzballs.”
At this point, Miller said, the only option is to collect and throw away the fuzz.
“I predict there will be options to recycle laundry lint (from both washers and dryers) before too much longer.”
Miller noted that the Cora Ball is made out of 100% diverted materials— in other words, material that would end up in the landfill if it wasn’t purchased.
“And after a Cora Ball is worn out, we can recycle them, too.”
Miller said she’s excited that the Cora Ball is entirely made in Vermont, “It was designed here, manufactured here, assembled here— it’s really as local as we could get it to be.”
Cora Balls can be purchased online, and the profits generated will circle back to the Rozalia Project, Miller said, to help fund their continued work to address marine debris issues.