Woolly thinking

When it comes to being environmentally friendly, wool ticks all the boxes.

The fibre is biodegradable, renewable and sustainable. It is fire-resistant, absorbs toxins and improves indoor air quality, as well as being energy-efficient.

Yet the frustrating thing for New Zealand crossbred wool producers is that they are not being rewarded for producing such an extraordinary product. If anything, they are being penalised as shearing costs often outweigh the pitiful prices they are receiving.

Crossbred wool is not as sexy as its fine wool cousin, which is used in the fashion and active outdoors market, and yields far greater returns, but its qualities are still remarkable. Sadly, the boxes might be ticked, but the cheques haven’t been signed.

Last year, carpet-maker Cavalier announced it was ditching synthetics in favour of wool and other natural fibres, citing ‘‘negative impacts on people’s health and the planet’’.

The listed company said the long-term dangers posed by plastics were becoming clear. Plastic was a global problem and manufacturers needed to be part of the solution.

The impact that plastics had on human health was not yet fully understood, but early studies suggested that microplastics entering the body were a potential threat. The average Kiwi home with synthetic carpet was similar to having 22,000 plastic bags on the floor, by weight.

For many years, wool carpet was the preferred option for flooring but in the past two decades more flooring choices had become available. Synthetic carpets, made from plastic fibres, were introduced to Australasia, backed by global manufacturers with large marketing budgets.

This week, it was encouraging to see the Ministry for Primary Industries announce a $1.9million contribution — through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund — towards Cavalier-subsidiary Bremworth’s $4.9million sustainability project.

In making the announcement, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor cited the plastic bag example, saying that was a ‘‘compelling reason to use sustainable wool wherever we can to make healthy homes for Kiwis and the world’’.

That was a good start but Mr O’Connor should now put the money where his mouth is and ensure a successful resolution to the recent petition by South Otago farmer and wool advocate Amy Blaikie who called on the House of Representatives to ensure all publicly funded buildings and KiwiBuild homes were built or refurbished with New Zealand wool carpet and insulation.

That would be a win-win for all involved; increased demand for New Zealand crossbred wool, leading to better returns for farmers and potentially greater employment opportunities in the sector, and healthy homes and workplaces, which is what all Kiwis deserve.

Wool is cool. Plastic is not so fantastic.

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