In a plastic-choked world, sheep’s wool could provide an answer

Sheep’s wool is an underused resource, and could be used to create sustainable packages. Image credit: Courtesy of Woola

In a plastic-choked world, sheep’s wool could provide an answer

In October last year, hundreds of people gathered in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, and were given a problem to fix in just 24 hours. The challenge: how to turn a model of waste into reuse and recycling. 

The group in Tallinn joined thousands of others around the world who were tasked to come up with ways to build a circular economy – where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy as long as possible, thereby reducing waste. 

It was the theme of 2019’s Climathon Hackathon, a global programme that encourages people to come up with tangible, local solutions to the climate challenges in their city. 

Climathon started in 2015 and now has more than 6,000 participants in almost 140 cities around the world. Focussed around the one-day “hackathon”, it’s a platform for people to come together in local communities and work on climate challenges. With Climathon’s help, it’s hoped these ideas can be translated into tangible projects, supporting climate-positive businesses and start-ups, and addressing local policy changes.

In Tallinn, entrepreneur Anna-liisa Palatu took on the issue of e-commerce packaging. As online delivery services like Amazon have grown over the years, so has the plastic waste.

In Estonia, 31 million litres of packing peanuts are thrown away every month. It’s believed implementing circular approaches has the potential to reduce EU CO2 emissions associated with the production of steel, plastics, aluminium and cement by 60% in the next 30 years.

Palatu first became aware of the issue of packaging waste when she ran an online clothes store and saw how much plastic and styrofoam waste there was when packing the products to send to clients. 

So she started looking at ways to solve this, and in October, took her idea to the Tallinn Climathon. 

Palatu is the cofounder of Woola, an eco-friendly packaging made out of sheep’s wool. 

Woola is an eco-friendly package made out of sheep’s wool. Image credit: Courtesy of Woola

She says sheep’s wool is an underused resource, and 90% of it – around 150 tonnes – are thrown away each year. 

“The quality of sheep wool is not high enough for fabric production, so it’s just thrown away and the amount of waste is huge,” she says. “So we connected these two topics and started making e-commerce packaging out of sheep wool. 

The first prototype was bubble wrap made out of wool, and now they’re working on a pilot scheme with the Estonian postal service using packaging made out of a woolen envelope. Palatu says the product protects the parcel during transportation and is resistant to temperature and humidity. It’s compostable within six months, and is 40% cheaper than plant-based package fillers. 

She adds: “We don’t only want to take the wool waste, we want to make a product that actually solves a problem. Our philosophy is to take garbage and make a product that reduces garbage.”

Woola won a Climathon award, and Palatu and her team believe there’s huge potential for scaling the product. The pilot is due to finish in Estonia in late spring. “Our own ambition is to test this out in the Estonian market, which we are doing right now, and then expand to Europe,” she says. 

“The situation of e-commerce is very worrying. It’s very nice as a consumer, but at the same time this 20% year on year growth means the amount of plastic garbage from e-commerce is also growing at a 20% yearly rate.” 

Palatu hopes Woola could significantly decrease the production, consumption and waste of environmentally dangerous materials like Styrofoam and plastic. 

Join the One Earth Community

Subscribe to receive monthly updates on climate solutions, environmental heroes, and the profound beauty and wonder of our shared planet Earth.