Woollen fleeces used as compost because consumers prefer plastic

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Sheep

NEWS AND VIEWS (COMMENTS): It looks shocking. Farmers turning woollen fleeces into compost because they can’t get enough money for their wool because the British public has turned to plastic for their clothing. It makes me instantly think of introducing legislation to force people to buy British wool. This is not something which would sound popular because in general you avoid legislation like that. However, it is almost criminal to be, in effect, throwing away wool which is a wonderful product simply because the British paying public has been coerced into buying plastic items.

Sheep

Sheep. Price of their fleece has plummeted. Photo in public domain.

Plastic pollution

The worst of it is that plastic pollutes the oceans. Plastic clothing when washed sheds minute plastic particles which end up in the oceans. This is a double whammy of madness. The oceans are clotted with plastic.

Falling value of wool fleeces

The value of sheep wool has been falling in recent years. Consumers have switched to synthetic fibres used in clothes, furnishings and carpets et cetera. Whereas five years ago a sheep’s fleece was worth 87p a kilogram, in 2019 farmers got 59p for the same product.

The coronavirus pandemic made it worse as the price dropped to 33p because export markets closed. Another barrier to selling the product and maintaining the price of wool is that those businesses and industries using it have been hit by the pandemic. I’m referring to cruise ships, hotels, casinos and airport.

Some farmers decided that it was loss-making to try and sell it because you have to factor in packing and transportation so they mixed it with manure and spread it on their fields. Shocking.

Personal story

Stuart Fletcher in Stonegate, East Sussex composted 600 fleeces in 2020. He thinks it’s a tragedy. He summed it up nicely when he said:

Here you have a completely biodegradable product. It’s breathable, yet waterproof, it keeps you warm but also cool. It’s a magical fibre that scientists have never been able to replicate. And yet we wear plastic clothes, everything is wrapped in plastic, and here we are composting it.

British Wool

As mentioned, he could have added the plastic pollution dimension as well. British Wool, buys most of the fleeces; 25% of which are sold to China, 50% remain in the UK and the remainder is sold in Europe and Japan. British Wool say that the future is bright! They’re working with universities to find new markets for their products.

New markets

Entrepreneurs are using their imagination and skills to find new markets. For example, Elizabeth Kneafsey sells wool rugs for £250 each under the brand Wild Wool Shepherdess from her farm in Bingham, Nottinghamshire. She says that she creates kits which she sells to enable purchasers to make their own rugs from wool which, as mentioned, is undervalued. She believes it’s about teaching people how to do these things to make life more sustainable. She believes people want to do away with plastics.

Government intervention

The market disagrees with her. My personal preference is that the government should intervene by curbing the manufacture of plastic clothing. It may ultimately lead to their being less sheep although Stuart Fletcher, who I’ve referred to, sells lamb to the Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing. I’d rather do away with lamb as a meat completely and value the wool that sheep produce far more highly. It’s a far better relationship between animal and person in my view.