A couple of years ago, a Kickstarter project caught my attention. It was shared on social media by someone I know who works for a leading organisation studying marine plastic pollution. I helped crowdfund the project and have been using the Cora Ball for about seven months in my front loading washing machine.
Microfibre pollution happens when agitation in the wash loosens very small fibres from clothing. Out they travel with the waste water into sewer systems and then waterways. If you guessed that there is no filter as small as a plastic microbead or filament, you’d be right. Microplastics are contaminating waterways, and to someone who enjoys eating shellfish and not destroying our special places, it’s sobering news.
Plastic microbeads from personal care products are arguably simpler to tackle. You can use microbead-free alternatives, petition producers to get the microplastics out of their formulations, and support legislative bans. But fibres from textiles are tricky. We can’t simply stop washing our clothes.
So what are we to do in the face of this disaster? The Guppy Friend, a sack to wash clothes in, has emerged as one potential solution. The Cora Ball is another. It’s a ball designed to go into the washing machine with clothing, where the arms are mean to capture plastic fuzz. The design is inspired by the filtering system of coral reefs. The inventor has even participated in studies of microfibre discharge into waterways in the US. The Kickstarter campaign was overwhelmingly successful.
The Coraball’s simplicity of use appealed to me. Toss it into the washing machine and then extract the plastic fluff that collects between the arms. It sounded simpler than stuffing and unstuffing the Guppy Friend. I also figured that once I realise my dream of dog ownership, it’d collect dog hair too. Heck, it would be great if it collected my hair, which mostly balls up on my socks in the wash. In my excitement about this possible solution, I pre-ordered three balls as part of the Kickstarter campaign. One for me and two more for family members who’d expressed interest.
Does the Cora Ball work to capture microfibres? Here’s my experience.
I have been using the Cora Ball for approximately seven months and it doesn’t collect much from any wash, including loads of synthetic clothing. We don’t have any microfleece or loose pile synthetics. Most of our synthetics are bike and yoga garb made of lycra or similar. It doesn’t collect more than a few strands of my long hair, which I still sometimes find balled up on my socks after washing. I don’t have a dog yet either (sob), so I can’t comment on its ability to catch pet hair.
In the entire time I have used the Cora Ball, I’ve cleaned out fuzz twice. One load produced a noticeable amount of white fluff. I couldn’t figure out what garment was responsible. I was reassuring in a way to know that it could work. The fluff took a few minutes to remove with tweezers.
Just before writing this, I removed this second pile of fluff. This is the accumulated amount of fibres since the earlier white fluff batch.
So in seven months, I’ve diverted two small fluff balls of microfibres from being discharged. Is this enough? What did I expect anyway?
In truth, I’m having a hard time justifying the production of the ball (at least it’s made of recycled plastic) plus the shipping to get it from the USA, when I reconcile with how infrequently I’m removing fibres from the wash. The breakeven point is many years away, if ever, and it’s only spec’d to last five years. One of the circle end bits has already broken off.
I asked one of the people I’d given a ball to if they’ve had much success. He told me they’re not even using it. I don’t know what that tells me except that ease is relative.
Based on my own experience so far, I don’t recommend the Cora Ball as a solution for catching microfibres. I on the fence about the net benefit, and whether this is the best available solution. It captures some fuzz, but of course, my testing has no control. What if the friction of the ball creates more microfibre release? I would appreciate if the data from tests carried out by the company were made public, as I find the responses on their website to be vague in response to concerns like these.
One ultra low tech idea I’ve had is to wrap a nut milk bag (made of tight nylon mesh) around the end of the washing machine discharge hose to capture fibres on their way out. A similar idea to those nets on the ends of storm sewers that capture plastic bottles before they get out into the ocean. If I get around to trying this, I’ll let you know if it works. In the meantime, I’ll keep using the Cora Ball, if only to contribute to the knowledge base around this device and to see how long it will really last.
I’m interested to hear from any of you who’ve used the Cora Ball with different results to mine. Maybe you’ve had a completely different outcome with a top loading machine, plenty of fleece wear or pets, all factors I’d expect to increase the fuzz accumulation. I’m also interested to hear from any of you who have tried the Guppy Friend. Let me know in the comments.