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Using waste wool to cut plastic waste

Wool can be used as a sustainable source of packaging material to help reduce plastic-related pollution risks. An award-winning CAP-funded project launched by Estonian entrepreneurs provides an inspiring example that demonstrates the potential of wool to prevent the production of plastic waste.

EU Member States promote the prevention of packaging waste by encouraging alternatives to plastics, which helped motivate the launch of Estonia’s Woola company to use waste wool as a replacement for plastic bubble wrap packaging. The idea behind Woola emerged from an e-commerce company’s drive to reduce their use of plastic packaging. The company had been unable to source sustainable and scalable protective packing options until wool waste was identified as a suitable opportunity.

Sheep farmers in Estonia did not have a sufficient market for their wool, which  resulted in much of the wool being disposed of as waste. The results of the Woola project show that not only can it reduce the risks from plastic pollution but it can also minimise agricultural waste while increasing income opportunities for sheep farmers and providing new prospects for the wider EU wool sector.

LEADER funding from Estonia’s Rural Development Programme helped turn Woola’s innovative idea into a commercial success. LEADER’s capacity to act as a catalyst for such rural entrepreneurship is one of the methodology’s most recognised and most valuable assets. Thanks to LEADER, the Woola project was able to test and prove the commercial viability of its business plans for this highly beneficial and globally transferable agri-food innovation. LEADER’s CAP co-finance helped the company invest in a new production facility for its eco-packaging products, which currently comprise envelopes, bottle sleeves and bubble wool.

Using waste wool to cut plastic waste

Inspirational outcomes

This LEADER-funded innovation is a good example of how the community-led local development methodology can add value to the EU agri-food sector's green credentials. Woola’s range of useful business and social capital outcomes include a new online tool which helps network Estonian sheep farmers and other wool stakeholders. This promotes peer learning and improves the process of coordinating the management of waste wool. It strengthens the value chain supplying the Woola manufacturing process and the company has also set up a returns system for customers so that their packing materials can be reused multiple times. Such holistic thinking further strengthens the products’ contribution to the circular economy.

Another beneficial social capital outcome from Woola is the company’s interest in creating youth employment. The CAP funds have created jobs for young people in a locality lacking employment opportunities. Working for Woola offers staff higher pay than other options in the area. Furthermore, the jobs are accessible to people without skills in the use of special machinery or the ability to take on physically demanding jobs. These reasons, combined with the LEADER project’s numerous additional benefits, led to Woola being awarded first prize in the 2022 Rural Inspiration Awards’ Green Futures category. Find out more about this inspirational CAP success story.