Thursday, February 22, 2024

Digging into the wonders of wool

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Primary school science experiment makes a point about fibre’s sustainability.
A new experiment begins with the new selection of synthetic and wool products being buried for the next lot of students to unearth in a few years’ time.
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A primary school science experiment in Maniototo, Central Otago, has been quietly evolving over the past five years, aimed at showcasing the sustainability of wool. 

Spearheaded by PGG Wrightson Central Otago wool representative Graeme Bell, the experiment at St John’s School in Ranfurly has confirmed wool as the champion fibre of sustainability.

In 2018, Bell collaborated with staff and students at the school to bury two jerseys in the school grounds, kickstarting an exploration of the biodegradable superpowers of wool.

One of the jerseys was the school jersey at the time, crafted from synthetic material, while the other was a PGG Wrightson woollen windbreaker with a plastic lining and zip.

At the end of 2023, the experiment results were revealed as Bell and the eager students and staff of St John’s  unearthed the remains of both jerseys. 

The synthetic jumper showed minimal signs of degradation – missing only the cotton badge of the school logo.

“You could have washed the jersey and worn it again,” Bell said.

The woollen windbreaker, however, had undergone a transformation. All that remained were the plastic lining and zip. 

The remains of two jerseys — synthetic, left, and woollen — after being buried for about five years are displayed by St John’s School pupils and, from left, school chair and PGG Wrightson livestock representative Ryan Dowling, PGG Wrightson Central Otago wool representative Graeme Bell and teacher Geraldine Duncan in Ranfurly.

The students were astounded, witnessing firsthand how wool had not only broken down but had become a natural fertiliser, contributing to the growth of lush grass. 

The cycle was complete – the grass had the potential to feed sheep, which would produce more wool, and  the sustainable journey would continue.

After the initial unearthing, a new chapter of the experiment began for the next group of children coming through the school. 

This time, the now woollen school jumper, a piece of synthetic carpet, some raw wool and some plastic bottles were buried, awaiting discovery by future students in the years to come. 

The synthetic jersey, top, and the almost unrecognisable woollen windbreaker, bottom left, compared to what it looked like when first buried eight years ago, bottom right.

The ongoing initiative is part of the Campaign for Wool’s “Wool in Schools” programme, dedicated to promoting the benefits of wool and fostering an understanding of its sustainability.

Bell, with a career in the wool industry since 1968, is a passionate advocate for the fibre and keen to emphasise the significance of wool, not just as a product but as a sustainable force with the power to shape a greener future.

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