A Game-Changer In Eco-Friendly, Sustainable Insulated Packaging

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Since polystyrene packaging was invented in 1954, there has been no alternative that has outperformed its cool chain performance and combined it with recyclability, sustainability, biodegradability and compostability attributes. That is, until now. By Emily Mantilla, senior partner, Honey and Fox Proprietary Limited.

An ingenious product made from wool that was once discarded as waste is now enjoying a new life as an insulated packaging product.

Seeing the amount of polystyrene coming into her fresh food businesses and then going to landfill, Joanne Howarth, chief executive officer of fresh food packaging and logistics company, Boxed 2 Go, was driven to seek out an alternative that was not only environmentally responsible but a quality product with a competitive price point so that she could offer supply chain companies a viable option.

“It really bothered me. Each day there were polystyrene boxes piled up all over the warehouse.  They’d accidently get stepped on, run over by a forklift or crushed and the whole warehouse looked like it had been hit by a snow storm with thousands of tiny pieces of polystyrene,” said Ms Howarth.

During her year-long quest to find a viable alternative, Ms Howarth discovered a product in the United Kingdom called Woolcool that used sheep belly wool as the insulation component.

Ms Howarth said, “It just made perfect sense to me.  Wool has been used in housing insulation for hundreds of years and houses are essentially a box—just like packaging.”

Ms Howarth worked with the UK company to obtain the license to manufacture and distribute the product in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

How Woolcool works is incredibly and beautifully simple.

Nature intended that wool would keep sheep warm in winter and cool in summer. Woolcool has simply borrowed the idea from nature and created a packaging product that keeps cold products cold and hot products hot while also having the added benefit of a protective cushion to safeguard products in transit.

Wool is a very efficient insulation material as it is extremely effective at absorbing moisture from the air, which creates stable temperatures through minimising humidity and condensation. Woolcool’s patented technology combines a complex blend of wool fibres from different breeds of sheep to provide consistent optimal insulative properties. This wool is felted into a liner and sealed within a recyclable food grade film.

Woolcool’s manufacturing process is also very eco-friendly. After the wool is sourced, it is naturally washed in just hot soap and water and felted to make the insulation material to the required thickness for many different applications, boxes and mailing pouch shapes. The natural washing and scouring process that is used ensures that the wool is sterilised. In addition, wrapping and sealing the wool liners inside a recyclable film—which is micro-perforated to allow the wool to absorb and release moisture—prevents wool fibres coming into direct contact with any products during transport so there are no tainting issues.

Ms Howarth said, “You don’t only get excellent and stable temperature control with Woolcool but you also eliminate the wet condensation that builds up in polystyrene. Woolcool breathes and stops cardboard and paper packaged products and labels from going soggy and falling apart.”

Independent scientific tests have demonstrated that Woolcool keeps contents packed at 1 deg C chilled below 5 deg C for at least 24 hours and outperforms the thermal performance of polystyrene.

The first foundation customer for the company when it launched in 2015 was in the online meal delivery sector, which is where Ms Howarth’s experience and expertise lies.

The online meal delivery industry is one of Australia’s fastest growing industries and before Woolcool, companies had to rely on polystyrene to meet the transportation needs of temperature-sensitive fresh food.

Typically, in this sector, fresh and frozen food is packed in a central distribution centre, and then transported to the customer, sometimes over vast distances. Transit times can be over a 48-hour period and then the delivery can potentially be left on the doorstep for up to 12 hours. In Australia, it is not unusual for temperatures to hit 42 deg C in the peak of summer, thus creating food safety and quality risks.

Woolcool enabled online meal delivery companies to remove polystyrene from their operations with confidence but also enabled new business opportunities to flourish.

For example, one business operating out of Sydney, Australia, was able to open up new territories in Darwin and far north Queensland. Both these states of Australia experience high heat and high humidity seasons. The client was confident that their products could be transported for longer periods and further afield, remain at safe and stable temperatures, and still be sensitive to the environment with this packaging choice.

The response from businesses and their customers alike has been extremely positive. Laura Anderson, co-founder of The Really Good Food Co. said, “Finding Woolcool was a game changer. It not only provided us with an environmentally responsible solution to our cold temperature shipping but it also significantly elevates the first impression made with our customers by being far more attractive than alternatives.”

“Since our food can also be ordered as gifts for others, Woolcool really helps our customers feel like they are unwrapping a present. We are very impressed with the results of Woolcool’s ability to maintain the temperatures of frozen and chilled foods. Nowhere else allows for items to be shipped at different temperatures within the same box as easily. This allows our business room to grow into areas that were not otherwise available to us.”

The environmental and transport risk benefits don’t just stop there. Woolcool also offers significant customer cost savings in many other areas.

For example, Woolcool comes flat packed (reducing storage costs), and it provides cushioning properties that reduce damage and offers savings on re-transport costs. One of Woolcool’s customers discovered they could fit 250 Woolcool boxes on one pallet compared with 120 polystyrene boxes on one pallet.

Many customers also find they no longer need refrigerated trucks or ice packs as Woolcool’s performance is superior. With limited thickness options, polystyrene has its restrictions. Woolcool comes in many thick and thin varieties, offering substantial cost savings during cooler and/or shorter shipments.

When asked about the cost comparisons to insulated packaging such as polystyrene, Ms Howarth said, “People are surprised to learn it is on par with that of the costs of polystyrene packaging.”

In its quest to be an environmentally responsible packaging manufacturer and supplier, Woolcool has also formed very strong strategic partnerships and collaborated with key organisations including the Australian Institute of Packaging, the Australian Packaging Covenant and more recently, Planet Ark, whose endorsement has spoken volumes on the quality and performance and environment benefits of the product.

“Latest statistics indicate that only 29.4 percent of polystyrene is currently recycled and the remainder either goes to landfill or ends up polluting our environment and waterways,” said Planet Ark’s partner relations manager, Kristie Baker.

Woolcool sees these partnerships as underpinning the continuing success and growth of their business with the opportunity to tap into the expertise of such established environmental and packaging organisations.


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