NZ Ministry of Education chooses synthetic carpets for school improvement project

In an announcement made on 5 July, a government-funded initiative will install synthetic carpet in more than 600 rural schools throughout New Zealand.

Wool farmers and other groups across the country immediately spoke out against the decision. Campaign for Wool NZ captures the reporting on its newspage.  Listen to Campaign for Wool NZ’s Tom O’Sullivan on Radio New Zealand here.

The Ministry defended the choice on the grounds that the carpet selected is “fully recyclable.” Solution-dyed nylon meet the ministry’s product requirements and fulfills its recycling and carbon footprint goals, and was a more cost-effective use of public funds, a public official told the Otago Daily Times.

But Wool Impact Ltd chief executive Andy Caughey told reporters that the logic behind the ministry’s decision “just doesn’t make sense”.

“The virtues of wool needs to be spelt out to future decision-makers of carpeting, be it for schools, offices or for individuals. We’ve got to look at the value equation in a much greater way than just looking at cost; it’s the environmental factors, the rural communities and the educational side of raising our kids in a safe, clean and healthy environment.”

Wool Impact is a collaboration between the Government and sheep sector partners under the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to grow export revenues for wool.  The $11.4 million, three-year programme sees sector partners are contributing $6.9 million on top of the Government’s $4.5 million investment.

“Disappointing and hypocritical”

Only last year, the government-sponsored Wool Impact programme launched, with the very aim of promoting use of strong wool carpets, insulation and other products.

“It would be fantastic to see strong wool becoming our first choice of fibre in our homes, schools and businesses. Wool Impact is charged with making it a compelling and affordable alternative to synthetic fibres, and reversing the significant under-investment of the past three decades,” NZ Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said at the time.

Nicky Bell, principal at one of the schools to be refitted, called the decision “extremely disappointing” and “hypocritical.”

Her school is an “Enviroschool,” which is another government-funded programme that supports sustainability in schools. One of the actions that Enviroschool supports is the use of ecological building materials.

Wool speaks out

New Zealand produces 100,000 tonnes of strong wool a year, which could readily be used for carpeting. In the last year, about 14,000 tonnes was used by NZ carpet brands, Andy Caughey said.

Campaign for Wool NZ general manager advocacy Tom O’Sullivan said that one of wool’s biggest hurdles is the dominance of synthetic carpet which is much more flammable than wool and does not share the same moisture wicking properties that wool has.

“Choosing wool not only supports our wool industry and our hardworking farmers, it protects our climate and planet from further destruction,” Tom O’Sullivan said.

Another reason to avoid synthetic carpets: microplastics. A new report shows how synthetic carpets contribute to microplastic fibres in our homes, an issue that carpet manufacturers have not addressed. Find the report by SB+CO and the Univsersity of Portsmouth here.

Now Read: All About Wool – the Essentials