When professional packaging designer Angela Morris was asked by the National Trust to help its tenant farmers by finding a more environmentally friendly means of keeping their home deliveries chilled during transit, her answer was nothing short of revolutionary.
The main option available to the farmers was polystyrene or polyethylene insulation, both man-made oil-based products not easily disposed of. It was vital, however, that any alternative be effective in keeping produce at low temperatures during delivery.
Morris's idea was to use sheep's wool, an abundant and sustainable natural resource - there are over 22 million shearable sheep in the UK. She identified that sheep's wool is a 'smart fibre' with hygroscopic properties that absorb and release moisture from the air to create consistent temperatures. Following detailed research, Morris developed woolcool(TM), a system of eco-friendly insulated packaging that is now marketed by the Wool Packaging Company and has been taken up by suppliers and retailers such as Daylesford Organics, Abel & Cole, and DHL. Not only does it compete on cost, but woolcool keeps chilled contents below 5 degsC for at least 24 hours, performing better than equivalent polystyrene packaging.
The environmental benefits are manifold. The innovation comes at a time when sheep farmers have seen the price of wool plummet because of man-made fibres and much wool was wasted. Woolcool creates a new market for these farmers and can use even the coarsest of fleeces. The processing is minimal, with the wool being hand-pulled and washed without extreme temperatures or chemical treatments. There are even some useful by-products: the sludge produced from washing is used for natural fertilisers or slug pellets; and natural lanolin is separated out for use in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Through existing suppliers switching to woolcool, an estimated 65 tonnes of polystyrene or polyethylene is estimated to have been taken out of the chilled food delivery sector in 2009, a figure set to double in 2010. Much of that waste would have gone into landfill. Even the footprint from delivering woolcool represents a dramatic improvement: since it is flat-packed, three articulated lorries can deliver 10,000 units of woolcool, in comparison to 25 vehicles for equivalent polystyrene packaging.
Shropshire-based the Wool Packaging Company has become the only business providing sheep's wool packaging on a commercial scale, and is now targeting the entire perishable food sector, including national grocery retailers. Meanwhile, the company is researching and developing new woolcool lines for other sectors that require temperature-sensitive transportation, including horticulture, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. All of which spells a resurgence of interest in wool and one that will be welcome news for hill farmers.
Samsung Electronics UK
Environmental Business Products
WEB LINK: The Wool Packaging Company www.woolcool.com