Comment: With growing concerns over climate change, why are we still using nylon pile carpets, when wool is much better for the environment?, writes Nick Brown, Taranaki Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Chairman.
As a new parent, travelling with a baby in Europe, the first thing I do when I go anywhere is scope the joint for the softest, safest surface for my child's immersion on the bacteria-laden floors.
Floors never used to interest me. For most of us, we don't take much notice of what we are walking on, be it wood tiles, lino, or synthetic or woollen carpet.
But people are becoming more aware, and are demanding transparency of what's in their products. It won't be long until they turn their attention to what's beneath their feet.
Products that are perceived to be better for both human health and the environment will be in higher demand. This is a huge opportunity for the strong wool sector.
Recently I read an opinion piece by Greg Galt, the managing director of Supertuft Pty Ltd.
He thinks that nylon pile carpet (NPC) should be banned in New Zealand, and it made me look closer at what we have our most vulnerable - our children - lying on, sucking on, and crawling on. The health and environmental concerns he pointed out, are massive.
Read more from Federated Farmers here.
When NPCs burn, they release a very toxic gas known as hydrogen cyanide. This gas has been widely used in the past as a chemical warfare agent and symptoms range from headaches and dizziness at low levels to seizures or rapid death if large quantities are inhaled.
To get around this problem the NPCs have halogenated flame retardants added to avoid burning. While this may sound like a good solution, halogenated flame retardants are among the most notorious products of the chemical industry.
They can be linked to hyperactivity, learning disabilities, reproductive harm and cancer. As a result, infants are exposed through hand to mouth contact of treated carpets.
We have a potential environmental disaster on our hands with all these NPCs. They are difficult to recycle, and contain dangerous chemicals which we do not want to seeping into our oceans or if burnt, releasing toxic gases into the air.
Consumers are also becoming more aware of climate change. Synthetic carpets are made from oil products, contributing to greenhouse gas production.
NPCs are a massive source of non-biodegradable waste.
Recycled bottles (which contain another dangerous chemical, BPA) can be another component of nylon pile carpets. The problem is, it can't be re-recycled.
NPCs are also a huge source of micro-plastics, another environmental concern. Do we want this stuff – and the flame retardant and stain resistant chemicals embedded in it, ending up in our oceans?
So, choose woollen carpet. It is naturally flame retardant, requires no stain resistant chemicals, and is biodegradable when the carpet's life is finished.
If we want to be an eco-friendly country, let's walk the talk. We have a problem and we have the solution. We have the products! Let's use woollen batts in our walls, and woollen carpet on our floors.
Sounds crazy, but maybe the government should ban future use of synthetic carpets and fibreglass insulation, to name a few. They banned single use plastic bags, and that idea a few years ago may have sounded crazy to some.
Quite a few people already know this, but let's review just a few of wool's fine features: It absorbs 30 per cent of its weight in water, it's biodegradable, it's renewable. It's the perfect natural, sadly under-used and under-valued product.
We would then ensure we are providing a house that is better for the environment, safer for our children, and better for economy, not to mention our international image.
So, take a look down. Wool or synthetic? Can you tell the difference? Do you care - yet?And how much is your family's health worth to you?