Wool off-cuts used to ship food and pharmaceuticals
Wool is able to moderate the temperature of sheep in warmer and cooler months, and now, the natural fibre is being used as an alternative thermal packaging for food and pharmaceutical products.
And Australian company Planet Protector Packaging is leading the charge, having replaced 10 rugby fields full of compressed polystyrene with wool packaging each year since launching in 2016.
The company’s founder and chief executive Joanne Howarth said the world was facing a waste crisis, and Planet Protector Packaging was using wool to create a sustainable and compostable alternative to polystyrene.
Ms Howarth said their ‘Woolpack’ product was made from 100 per cent wool and manufactured in Australia and New Zealand.
She said they were using wool that was normally sent to landfill, the “off-cuts” which came from a sheep’s underbelly.
“By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, [and] our solution is wool,” she said.
“Wool is nature’s smart fibre.”
She said after the raw wool was obtained, it was naturally washed, scoured using only boiling hot water and soap, and felted to make the insulation material.
The liner was then cut into lengths and sealed within the recyclable or compostable food-grade wrap.
“We use felted wool to provide an insulative barrier to ship pharmaceuticals, seafood and food products in the e-commerce sector,” she said.
Planet Protector Packaging has so far linked up with food delivery companies such as Bondi Meal Prep and My Food Bag, as well as cattle IVF company ART Lab Solutions, who manufacture and ship media designed to meet the metabolic needs of the transferred embryo.
“Over the past three years there hasn’t been a single client to whom we’ve shown our product that did not like it,” she said.
She said the wool packaging occupied 20pc of an equivalent amount of polystyrene.
“It arrives flat-packed, there’s lass pallet movements, lower labour costs; it’s a win-win-win all around,” she said.
“For the first time in 70 years, there is a sustainable alternative to polystyrene that delivers.”
WoolProducers Australia chief executive Jo Hall said this type of innovation was really exciting for the wool industry.
“Wool has amazing thermal properties so it makes sense that it would be used for this sort of packaging,” Ms Hall said.
She said wool off-cuts traditionally attracted relatively low prices, so anything that increased demand was a good thing.
“We would be hopeful that with any sort of new use found for our wool that we’d see some sort of positive impact on the market,” she said.
Ms Hall hoped more uses for wool were discovered as the fibre’s benefits became better known.
“The natural attributes of wool really lend itself to this new, ongoing push for sustainability,” she said.
“These eco-credentials are basically assisting in selling wool.”
And she said a positive story like this came at a time when the wool industry was in need of good news.
“There’s no doubt that the market is currently going through a pretty dark phase at the moment due mostly to COVID-19,” she said.
“That’s expected to last for the next 18 months to two years, depending on when demand starts to increase again.
“So we welcome any new markets for wool and hope to continue to see wool being used in new and innovative ways to help get the market back on its feet.”
You can find out more about Planet Protector Packaging here.