Abel and Cole reduce landfill waste with woolcool packaging

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on October 8, 2009 9 Comments
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Emma Healey talks about Abel and Coles new Woolcool packaging

Emma Healey talks about Abel and Coles new Woolcool packaging

After a week of fabulous guest posts, we’ve decided to open up Thursdays for guest writers from now on! This week Emma Healey, one of the team at Abel & Cole for almost 2 years shares their latest packaging news which waves a cheery goodbye to the use of polystyrene and replaces it with … well, I won’t spoil Emma’s fun.

Defected from the ‘Devil wears Prada’ fashion industry to the much more interesting and appetising organic food industry Emma is now knee deep in mud and veg more often than fabrics and buttons. Visiting Abel and Cole’s farmers is definitely the highlight! 

At Abel & Cole, we challenge ourselves about everything we do to make sure it has minimal impact on the environment…it’s even known to cause some debates over our lunch time beetroot curry!

Using polystyrene boxes for chilled deliveries has been a real bug-bear…something we’ve been keen to move away from for a while, even though we do reuse these boxes several times.

Finding an alternative has been a major project, and earlier this year, we discovered Woolcool, a fantastic packaging initiative developed by Angela Morris, which evolved from working with National Trust tenant farmers. Winner of the Observer Food Monthly ‘Best Innovation’ Award 2009, it is an entirely eco-friendly insulated packaging, with a ‘back to basics’ principal that is right up our street.

We were excited, so held lots of temperature trials, as well as trying them out with our customers – and on both counts, they got a big thumbs-up. We are now in the process of rolling it out for all deliveries, whilst exhausting all possible use of the existing polystyrene boxes.

The difference is that every element of Woolcool is environmentally friendly, so we are now sleeping well at night! We’ve made some calculations to put this change into perspective, and we found that using Woolcool is saving us from using about 87 40ft trailers worth of polystyrene a year! In contrast…as long as we continue to shear our sheep, there is wool.

The wool we currently use is all from British sheep, helping to raise the value of wool in the UK – so we are supporting British sheep farmers and rural communities. Processed and packaged in the UK, the virgin wool currently used can be recycled in the future and used again – so it’s seriously sustainable. Even when the wool can no longer be used for packaging it’s fully biodegradable and compostable.

How it works is that the sheep’s wool is naturally felted and sealed within a recyclable food grade film to create the insulation, and it is even more effective than polystyrene. By naturally absorbing moisture, the wool fibres keep contents consistently cool and dry for longer, being proven to keep contents chilled below 5°c for at least 24 hours.

The wool sleeves line our regular recycled cardboard delivery boxes, which are used over and over until they must be recycled. We are collecting feedback from our customers about the new chill boxes as we roll them out, with one customer already telling us “I am glad to say they worked well. It is also nice to see a more ethical product than the previous cool boxes.” It means a lot that they are as interested in the eco-credentials as we are.

Woolcool ticks all of the boxes for Abel & Cole: in addition to being an effective insulation and replacing our need for polystyrene, it adds another way we can support British farmers. Now we just can’t wait to see the back of the last polystyrene box!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Emma

    The convenience of polystyrene makes it a challenge to replace with sustainable materials, like Woolcool. Just as with plastic bags, good alternatives are necessary to win the argument. Zero Waste is all about people, whether at home or in business, changing things for the better.

    This should lower your weekly waste since the wool based product has further usage. It would be excellent to get your feedback on that and how you compost the material when that is required.

  2. Rachel says:

    Ooo, I feel like ordering something chilled to see what the new boxes are like, I already get my veg box from abel and cole. Have you thought of offering the old boxes to your customers as I have used them for growing salad in before – the slugs aren’t so keen to crawl over the polystryene.

  3. Mr Green says:

    Hello Emma, thanks for your article on woolcool. This is a fabulous reuse story, as well as descovering a better way to avoid polysterene. I have not seen woolcool, but I wander if it can re resued yet again after you discard it in building insulation materials and other non food grade uses?. My guess is there are many reuses for sheep wool. I have a mattress mad of sheep wool and have to say it’s unusually comfortable and great at regulating temperature.

    I think choosing anlternative to the ubiquitous polysterene is an excellent choice and puts Abel and Cole well ahead in environmental credentials.

  4. Mrs Green says:

    Wonderful news, Emma – thank you for sharing the story here! I have a particular thing about polystyrene hanging around in the landfill and breaking off to form litter; so it’s great to hear of innovative ways to get around the need for it. I love Rachel’s ideas of offering the old boxes to customers for reuse!

  5. Baaaah! in sheep-speak means “simply elated”. i had impatiently waited for man-woman or child to think up suitable alternatives to the insane artificial cushioning for excess consumerism.
    baaah! i reiterate, good thing, hoping some moths don’t take up residence in the cushy softnesses between trips and re-uses. or that the lanolin within doesn’t turn rancid in the dog days of summer somewhere. Or worse, that Mr and Mrs Mouse don’t establish private dominion in the organic woolly product abode of their choice…
    There is hope beyond polystyrene after-all…just to know that little white peanuts won’t be clinging to the neighbor’s bushes and plastic bags will soon disintegrate their final earthly sigh, gives rise to cautious optimism..thanks to intelligent enterprise.

  6. Emma Healey says:

    Hello and thank you very much to everyone that has read and given feedback and questions. I have spoken with Angela from Woolcool to corroborate my replies…

    John – It really has been a challenge, and is gratifying to have found a solution – thanks to Angela Morris and all at Woolcool. Hopefully other retailers will be able to make the switch as well so there is less need for polystyrene production in future.
    Regarding the composting of the wool…there are actually a variety of options and because it’s completely biodegradable it will always break down whatever you do with it! On a domestic level the wool can be added to garden composters, or it’s great for protecting plants from frost and if you use it around your roses it puts vital nitrates back into the soil as it breaks down. Alternatively, it can be reused for many other, more ‘industrial’ applications and even reprocessed as Woolcool. The sleeves can also be recycled at any standard plastics recycling point or by returning them to your driver with your delivery boxes. Our cardboard boxes are used over and over again, until they are not fit for purpose any more, at which point we recycle them. We have also tried to put the polystyrene boxes to good use once they have been used as much as possible, as we have been sending them to a company that has reused the polystyrene whenever possible. We are looking forward to not having any polystyrene boxes in use though, of course.

    Rachel – We are still in the process of rolling out the new chill boxes so as to use up all the life left in the polystyrene boxes first. We’ll phase the Woolcool in depot by depot so if you let me know where you live then I can tell when you will see the Woolcool in action. I love the idea of using them to grow salad…certainly makes the most of them and would be an easy way for people to grow their own salad…so many positives in that idea. We’d be happy for customers to keep their chill boxes for such purpose rather than leave them for their driver to collect, if they so wish.

    Mr Green – As I said to John…there is no reason why the wool shouldn’t be re-used again and again, for all kinds of purposes, both around the home and for more diverse applications. Just a few examples Angela has given me include loft insulation, lagging for pipes, draught excluders, liners for hanging baskets, insulation for home brewing kits, pet bedding – the list goes on! I believe the National Trust also use wool as a traditional insulation when restoring and renovating their heritage properties.

    Mrs Green and Nadine – thank you very much for the vote of confidence and support! Woolcool provides a perfectly viable alternative to polystyrene, so consumers now have a pivotal role to play in demonstrating this is just the kind of sustainable and biodegradable packaging we increasingly expect and demand. We are influenced by our customers and their purchasing decisions, and they have made their views loud and clear. We’ve been overwhelmed with positive customer response.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    @Emma Healey: THanks for coming back to answer our questions, Emma. All your suggestions for reuse are wonderful; it really seems like the perfect insulating material! I like the suggestion of using as a mulch around plants as well, but I hope most of all people reuse it time and time again.

  8. Danielle Dyer says:

    Is it clean enough to use as hamster bedding?

    • www.abelandcole.co.uk says:

      Hi Danielle, it’s absolutely fine to use as hamster bedding, most definitely. It’s naturally washed, so no sort of nasties anywhere in sight. I’m sure your hamster will find it one of the cosiest things that it’s ever snuggled into.

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