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AgResearch study breaks down wool fibres in seawater

Research conducted into how woollen clothing and carpet biodegrades in seawater is expected to enhance the appeal of the natural fibre as concern deepens over synthetic micro fibres entering the food chain. Crown Research Institutes’ AgResearch and Scion are the brains behind this pilot project which may be another reason for consumers to choose wool.

AgResearch senior scientist Steve Ranford says there is only limited data on the behaviour of wool but that suggests that as a natural protein fibre, it breaks down in seawater in a way petroleum-based synthetics don't. "The aim is to provide the public with objective information as they make choices about what they buy, as well as provide data to manufacturers and retailers on the performance of goods like clothing and carpet," Ranford explained.

Evidence records micro fibres of synthetics such as polyester and nylon contributes to a significant amount of micro plastics entering waterways/oceans and be swallowed by marine life and end up in humans. The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, an offshoot of the University of Florida, says a synthetic garment can shed more than 1900 fibres per wash which are too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants and end up in the ocean.

It advocates cotton, hemp and linen that do break down. Wool contributed 26 per cent of the total value of exports, but by 2011 wool's contribution to the value of exports had fallen to 1.6 per cent.