Hi there, my name is Rochelle. I’m the founder of Earthly and I wanted to take a moment to talk about why I chose cotton as our wipe material.
When I set out to make a cleaner and greener disposable wipe, the first thing I thought about was what was on the wipe. I’d always paid so much attention to the ingredients. In fact, when I began calling around to create our wipe, I didn’t even know what traditional wipes were made of.
Spoiler: they’re usually made of plastic.
Turns out, most wipes (and diapers!) are made with engineered plastic fabrics, derived from petroleum.
These plastic wipes are typically made from polyethylene – commonly used for plastic bags, polypropylene – common in packaging, and less likely polyester – commonly used for clothing, carpets, and furniture.
Not only did I not love the idea of wiping my baby with plastic, but the resources used and waste created from gathering, processing and disposing of wipes gave me the chillies (you know, like the goosebumps ;] ).
I knew there had to be a better way.
First things first, I wanted to use a renewable fiber that would compost easily. It had to be strong, soft, and absorbent. It also had to be able to be sourced and processed in a way that would be both pure for your skin and clean for the Earth, including shorter shipping distances. Finally, it was important to me that the people growing, harvesting, and processing the fibers were paid and treated fairly.
Anywhere I could squeeze extra purity or sustainability was a bonus!
Let’s look at the options
The most common renewable fibers for fabric or fabric-like products (think everything from clothing to toilet paper) are fiberized tree pulp, cotton, and bamboo. There is also a popular plant-based plastic called PLA (polylactic acid) that is used both in traditional plastic applications (like cups and packaging) and in disposable hygiene (like diapers and wipes).
Of the three non-plastic options, cotton is the only one that is already a fiber. Both bamboo and tree pulp must be processed from a hard structure into something that is soft enough to be used for fabrics. Although this process can be done mechanically, it’s most often done with chemicals. This doesn’t mean that they are bad fabrics, it’s just something I was trying to avoid to minimize processing, chemicals, and resources.
PLA is a fantastic alternative for things like plastic cups, packaging, or applications where plastic properties are necessary to make something work. But again, it takes quite a bit of processing to turn corn, for example, into plastics. And although it’s industrially compostable, it has a harder time breaking down in backyard composts since it’s not biodegradable. That being said, it is far easier on the Earths’ resources than traditional plastics and I’m in favor for so many other things!
Cotton it is!
So, I chose cotton. It’s already a fiber, it’s biodegradable, soft, absorbent, and renewable. It can be grown and sourced in the US, allowing me to lower my carbon footprint (shipping), and helps to ensure that employees will be paid and treated fairly. Finally, it is hypoallergenic and can be found in very pure form.
That being said, not all cotton is created equal. That’s why I didn’t choose just any ol’ cotton.
What I ended up with is a dreamy blend of 50% unbleached, OEKO-TEX certified, Mississippi grown True Cotton, and 50% mechanically repurposed post-industrial cotton clothing scrap (that’s a mouthful!).
Why That Cotton?
Once I decided on cotton I started calling cotton farms. I knew I had research ahead. I wanted to learn all about the cotton growing process, resources used, and end quality. I found out that cotton is so much more nuanced than I had realized! So many factors go into and come out of each individual farm.
I found one family farm in particular — the farm that grows True Cotton — that has patented a process to clean their cotton without having to use chemicals or bleach (very rare, even in organics!). They’re also constantly working to improve the sustainability of their farm by taking action like using recycled rainwater to grow with.
True Cotton is particularly unique in the way that it’s able to be processed. Typical fibers need to be cleaned and brightened with chemicals whereas True Cotton is cleaned entirely mechanically and left unbleached. They place a huge emphasis on both purity and sustainability and have gone the extra mile to have their fibers third-party tested for a whole slew of things, including harmful chemicals and pesticides. Their fibers are clean enough to maintain an OEKO-TEX certification, which is the strictest standard for textiles.
True cotton is amazing! It came in strong on the purity and sustainability front, but I wanted to move the needle a bit further on sustainability.
Que, repurposed cotton.
Think about it, every cotton t-shirt, sock, or pair of underwear has to be cut to shape, leaving behind scraps that are doomed to landfills. The waste coming from the apparel industry is particularly high, and I wanted Earthly to help to change that. We are working with a company that collects and mechanically refiberizes (using no chemicals or bleaching) ready-for-consumer clothing scrap.
Let’s dig in further: In the world of cotton, the processing is different for each end-use. When it comes to clothing the standards are a lot more strict than cotton pillow stuffing, for example. Being ready-for-consumer means that it has been thoroughly cleaned and often times tested to be skin-safe. And, when studied, it’s been found that anything lingering on clothing usually washes off in its first cycle. So, even though it comes to us in this skin-safe ready-for-consumer form, we thoroughly rinse it during the fiber combining process.
And for those of you that geek out on getting all the facts (like I do), here’s a little more. Some clothing items are treated with chemicals that release formaldehyde, to prevent wrinkles or shrinkage. Others have a swarm of dyes that can be harmful to the planet and our skin. That’s why we source scraps only from white undergarments that are free of those extra chemicals and dyes. This includes scraps from white undershirts, white underwear, and white cotton socks.
Combining the two fibers gave us a great balance of purity and sustainability, with both hitting in each area but bringing in a particular strength.
Always looking for the best
After all of my research and testing, these are the fibers that most closely represented all of our values. That being said, my promise to you, and Earthly, is to always be open and searching for materials and ingredients that offer the best of all worlds: purity, efficacy, sustainability, ethical practices, and love–always love!