Saturday, December 9, 2023

Wool could help solve our mega microplastics problem

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Synthetic carpets are getting a free ride from environmentalists, Alan Emerson says.
Wool has been used for over 8000 years with no visible environmental side effects, Alan Emerson says.
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I was interested to read that Federated Farmers was wanting a return to a wool levy. I’m not against levies per se, but my view is re-instituting the wool levy would be a complete waste of time and money.

Wool isn’t lacking for funds. It has $11.4 million in the Wool Impact NZ fund plus almost $40m in the Wool Research Organisation, plus farmer funds in Wools of NZ.

Feds spokesperson and Gisborne farmer Toby Williams said “the industry lacks unity and leadership in the face of desperately low wool prices” and on that one I agree with him entirely.

The tragedy is that the wool industry has languished for decades and it has been a problem largely caused by farmers themselves.

Currently we have farmers losing money shearing sheep, leaving just two profitable options – to either sell the farm for forestry or purchase shedding sheep like Dorpers.

I wouldn’t mind just one dollar for every hour I’ve spent over the years listening to people talking about how we can fix the strong wool industry. Currently there’s the Wool Impact initiative.

And I’m not going to give you a history lesson of all our previous bad decisions regarding the wool industry.

That stupidity is continuing.

While I believe the Campaign for Wool is doing well with limited resources, it is but one light in a sea of darkness.

For example, local carpet company Bremworth made the decision to ditch synthetic carpet and just concentrate on wool. I’m also aware of the considerable resources it is putting into research and development that includes waste reduction, carbon reduction and improved energy efficiency.

It has developed a prototype rug that contains zero plastic and has also developed a new Ahuru range of carpets “featuring bold colours from nature”.

So what did Wools of NZ do? It took manufacturing offshore to the low-wage companies of Turkey and Thailand.

What that achieves is that we have a local manufacturer who is committed to both local manufacturing and promoting strong wool, Bremworth. It is competing with a farmer-owned co-operative that’s ignored locals and taken its manufacturing offshore. Such has been the siloed mentality of our strong-wool industry.

It doesn’t make sense.

Then we had the ridiculously stupid Ministry of Education tender that’s put nylon carpet into rural schools. You’ll be aware of all the rubbish coming out of the ministry justifying the unjustifiable but again I’d suggest it is an industry problem.

We’ve always had grandiose schemes and grand plans that have never achieved much. It’s been a little like watching a couple of kids play monopoly.

What we do need is a simple, gutsy campaign selling the virtues of wool.

For a start, as Massey’s Professor Jacqueline Rowarth pointed out, carpeting the average New Zealand house with synthetic carpet is the equivalent of 20,000 plastic bags. We’ve banned plastic bags.

Synthetic carpet and polyester clothing come as  by-products of the world-polluting oil industry.

We’ve banned oil exploration, we’re taxing oil, why not synthetic carpets and polyester?

Then there are the harmful microplastics that are affecting our health and having a massive effect on the environment.

A South Korean study showed that microplastics in humans cause inflammation, neurotoxicity, oxidative stress and reproductive toxicity. They’re carcinogenic and they alter our metabolism.

So what the Ministry of Education has done by using synthetic floor covering is to put the health of our schoolchildren at risk, not to mention the environment.

According to the National Geographic Society, microplastics have also been detected in marine organisms from plankton to whales, in commercial seafood and drinking water. Standard water treatment doesn’t remove all microplastics.

The United Nations tells us that a third of plastic waste ends up in soil or freshwater. It affects all organisms, including earthworms and invertebrates.

One could humbly ask why we’re taxing fertiliser and utes, and putting farmers under draconian environmental requirements, when we’re encouraging synthetic carpets and polyester clothing? It doesn’t make sense.

Finally, wool has been used for over 8000 years with no visible environmental side-effects. Plastics have only been around a relatively short time and caused massive environmental issues and affected  the health of most organisms on the planet.

A recent British research paper from the University of Portsmouth concluded that the carpet industry basically couldn’t care less about its pollution, even though it is fully aware of the environmental issues and the implications for human health, with microplastics found in “blood, liver, lungs and placenta”.

When local and overseas visitors come to Rewa Rewa Station, Patrizia Vieno tells them about wool.

She says it’s “sustainable, renewable, recyclable, eco-friendly, compostable, self-cleaning, insulating and a fire retardant, and it stores up 50% of organic carbon”.

Against that there’s a pollutant that’s threatening human health and the environment.

Farmers have an excellent story to tell. They should get together and do it loudly and with one voice.

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