Thursday, May 19, 2022

Much-needed voice for wool sector

I WAS pleased to read about the formation of Wool Impact NZ as outlined in last week’s Farmers Weekly. Simply, it wants ‘a unified voice around the strong wool industry.’ It desperately needs one.

I was pleased to read about the formation of Wool Impact NZ as outlined in last week’s Farmers Weekly. Simply, it wants ‘a unified voice around the strong wool industry.’ It desperately needs one.

Wool is an amazing product, which I’ll come to, but the problem with the wool industry over the years has been farmer politics.

I can remember covering the old Wool Board, which was an interesting experience. You could have been forgiven thinking you were witnessing a conversation from a Victorian drawing room, almost complete with port and cigars and about as relevant.

They made, amongst other dumb deals, the incredible decision to leave the International Wool Secretariat with its Woolmark brand and do their own thing with Fernmark. Woolmark was one of the world’s top 10 recognised brands. Fernmark correspondingly remained obscure.

The budget for Wool Impact NZ will be $3.2 million for three years, which is a substantial amount. The main issue, Omicron aside, facing New Zealand, and indeed the world, is global warming and in that department wool ticks all the boxes. 

The majority of clothing world-wide is polyester that is produced by a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum from crude oil, air and water. It has a high impact process requiring 125 megajoules (MJ) of energy to produce one kilogram. Putting that in perspective 125MJ of energy would drive an average car over 150 metres and that’s equal to the production of just 1kg of polyester.

As the world produces 66.6 million megatonnes of synthetic fibre a year, that’s a huge amount of global warming.

Pollution is also an issue as the manufacturing process can release some real nasties into the environment, including cobalt, titanium dioxide, sodium bromide and manganese salts. Further, it isn’t biodegradable and can stay in landfills for hundreds of years.

When polyester clothes are washed microplastics enter waterways. Experiments using domestic washing machines have shown that each wash produces more than 1900 fibres. In fact, for each 100,000 people 110kg of microfibres are released daily, meaning Auckland releases 8.5 tonnes of microfibres into the waterways each and every day.

Surprisingly, the Government is banning microbeads, which is fine, but they contribute just 2% of the plastic particles in the ocean.

In addition, the waste is phenomenal, with 80 billion articles of clothing being produced each year, with, in Britain alone, over $300 million ending up in landfills to leak toxins and put microfibres in waterways for over 200 years.

So synthetic clothing is bad for your body and bad for the environment, with polyester alone needing 70 million barrels of oil each year.

It’s a similar story with synthetic carpets that the experts tell us are bad for our health. For a start, there are the harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). Styrene is one of the nasties that is used in carpet backing and also occurs in tobacco smoke and is a known carcinogenic, but there are many others, including formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene glycol and carbolic acid. 

High concentrations can cause numerous health problems, including sick building syndrome, eye irritation, dizziness, allergies, kidney failure and, as I’ve mentioned, cancer.

Like clothing, their production is highly energy intensive and releases harmful sulphur and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

According to the New York Times, Americans purchased over one billion square yards of carpet in 2007, equal to the land area of New York City. Seventeen pounds of old carpet per American ends up polluting in landfills. Between 92 and 94% of carpet in America is synthetic.

So in NZ we produce a miracle fabric – wool, which is worth more than it was, but still a fraction of its real value.

We have many experts working on solutions which to me are obvious.

Writing this article took many hours of research when I’d strongly suggest the information should be readily available on a single site.

Our politicians, always looking for a headline, can subsidise electric vehicles while ignoring what we have readily available on our doorstep.

In my view it is immoral to put synthetic carpet into schools. Why are we exposing our children to harmful volatile organic compounds? Politicians threaten to ban many things without solid scientific evidence, yet totally ignore the harmful effects of synthetic carpets.

The same could be said for government offices. Our civil servants deserve better.

And what about all our polyester clad leaders? Don’t they realise they are harming the planet in a variety of ways from emissions, through coal and oil to tonnes of microplastics polluting the oceans and killing fish?

So my thoughts for a clean, green future for NZ is for us to ban polyester clothing and synthetic carpets and subsidise our wool-producing sheep, rather than threatening to tax them for their burps. 

Those burps are a minor problem when it comes to saving the planet.

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