Friday, July 1, 2022

Compostable carpet on the way

The development of fully compostable carpet that can be mass-produced in a financially viable way would be transformational for New Zealand’s wool exports, according to local experts. 

Kiwi wool researchers have developed a compostable, plastic free prototype rug through a $4.9 million sustainability initiative bringing NZ’s wool export industry closer to mass production of fully compostable carpets  

Latest Government statistics show textiles, including all forms of carpet, make up about 5% of NZ landfill volumes with more than 186,000 tonnes entering the waste stream each year. 

Bremworth sustainability lead Kirstine Hulse says while wool is a natural fibre which can break down due to its organic composition, most wool carpets use a polypropylene backing and latex which contain synthetic materials preventing the product from being composted.

She says the new rug, hand woven from natural materials including sheep wool and alpaca fibres, was created as part of a rapid prototyping research initiative designed to test a number of sustainability concepts in textile design.

Each iterative step in the programme is designed to address barriers preventing carpet from completely breaking down at the end of its life.

“By preserving the natural integrity of the fibre we can increase the number of opportunities for product circularity, increase the number of secondary uses for used carpet and significantly reduce volumes of textiles entering the landfill,” Hulse said. 

Crossbred sheep and alpaca fibres were used in the first prototyping process to provide a broader range of colours but more trials are underway to find alternatives to the use of alpaca yarn given its limited supply in NZ.

The development of fully compostable carpet that can be mass-produced in a financially viable way would be transformational for NZ’s wool exports, Bremworth chief executive Greg Smith said.

He says the three-year initiative was launched in response to demand from consumers for an environmentally sound, end-of-life solution for carpet.

“We know there has been a post-pandemic shift in the way our international customers are seeing NZ wool, with a growing number looking to integrate natural fibre products into their home environment.”

While design and quality remain key drivers for most segments, what happens at the end of a product’s useful life is becoming an increasingly important factor in the purchase decision.

“Ultimately for NZ wool products to carry a price premium in key export markets like North America, we need to invest significantly into the creation of an added-value product.

“Our latest research initiative is designed to help us build a product range which can be meaningfully reused or naturally returned to the earth in a way that resonates with our customer base without compromising the design and performance that they care about.” Smith said. 

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