Sustainable Wool Pots

 In Garden Design, News

I was first introduced to Graham Hull by Sue Bradley. This led to a phone conversation between me and Graham. I was so interested and fascinated with what he was telling me and with their product that I asked Graham if he would be willing to write a guest blog as I believe more people should here about wool pots. I truly hope that more of us, including nurseries, will support this to try and reduce the amount of plastic that is just still going into landfill despite the Horticultural Industry making a massive effort to be more sustainable and introduce recyclable pots.

Wool pots are produced using both British and foreign wool. However, the company has plans to be using more British wool as their business develops. This will not only make the product even more sustainable but will help British farmers.

Tom and I have always been environmentally aware, countrymen at heart and upset by the huge amounts of plastic tree guards that litter our countryside, while doing some research on the “Perils of Plastic” I read that over 500 million plastic plant pots are sent to land fill in the UK every year…. That’s half a billion…. every year….!

Hort Week research shows that 87% of councils don’t recycle Taupe pots so unfortunately the colour change has added to the cost but not the recycling of plastic plant pots.

Research estimates that your average black plastic plant pot will take over 400 years to degrade and even after all this time it still won’t be “gone” it will have broken down to become a nano plastic. These tiny plastics can pass through membranes and around the bodies of animals and fish. In an article in 2022 discovered nearly 80% of the sample humans who were tested were found to have nano plastic in their blood.

British farmers often ended up disposing the wool that has been sheered from the sheep as costs to put them to better use are prohibitive.

Some leading cancer charities like Breast Cancer UK have said there is not enough research available, but they believe the chemicals and additives in plastics may lead to an increase in cancer, with the amount of plastic being produced each year increasing, this feels like an area of research that needs urgent investigation.

So, what’s this got to do with Wool Pots …?

Most of us are very familiar with this sight. Huge measures have been taken at great cost to produce the taupe-coloured pots that are recyclable. Although councils will collect them 87% are not recycling them but simply sending them to landfill.

At the same time, I was undertaking this research I spoke to my friend who is a fantastically robust lady farmer. She greeted me in the usual way “F’ing SHEEP” what’s up I asked? I was then given a lesson in “Sheep”… they do everything in their power to kill themselves, they randomly fall over and can’t stand themselves up again, they eat plants that they know will cause serious harm, they escape the whole time and then you have to pay someone (@ £1.50 per sheep) to shear them and the fleeces are practically worthless (@75p per fleece).

I asked the obvious question that if they are such a pain, why does she keep them… the bellowed response was “BECAUSE I LOVE THEM”, I asked what she did with all the fleeces and even she lowered her voice… it’s just too expensive to take them to the collection point so we just pile them up and burn them. To me this was even more surprising than learning that sheep spend their whole lives trying to escape or die.

Wool pots are sustainable, environmentally friendly and biodegradable. They are sold in bundles of 10 with minimal no waste packaging.

I was lucky enough to be part of the team who launched Teletubbies and have a background in product development, so I sat down with a glass of wine to find a solution… a huge issue with plastic plant pots and a problem with wool… it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to work out how I came up with the idea for Wool Pots. I approached my old friend Tom and declared I was going to save the world and I wanted him to join me. Tom is brilliant and very sceptical but after I had shown him the idea he agreed.

I created some prototypes and planted some seeds in them, they grew surprisingly well, so I then started looking into organisations who deal in wool, I found the Campaign for Wool and decided in a very bold move to send a brief presentation and outline of my idea to the Patron – Prince Charles (as he was then) he is a good man and has been a committed environmentalists for as long as I can remember. To my amazement two days later I received a letter from St James Palace saying he loved the idea and made us very proud members of the Campaign for Wool (a global organisation promoting the use of wool)

Wool pots allow gardeners to dig their planting hole and pop the whole pot straight in the ground. Saving precious time for the gardener and reducing waste.

When back filling the whole with soil, be sure to leave the collar proud of the soil. The collar will act as a natural slug and snail repellent.

The wool pot will slowly decompose into a bio rich plant food

We eventually found a fantastically environmentally friendly factory in Egypt to manufacture our Wool Pots (couldn’t find manufacturing in the UK) and we were ready to save the world one plant pot at a time.
We spoke to many mills in the UK while trying to find a UK based manufacturing partner. Most mills we spoke to created beautiful woollen products which were very high end – we are creating a zero-waste alternative for a very price sensitive product; they didn’t have the production capabilities to produce high-volume low-priced products. We explored other avenues but discovered factories where the workforce – although very hard working, were nervous when we arrived as they thought we were “officials”, there is no way we could work with these factories and retain our ethical position. We are not judge and jury, but we must know that the factory we use is environmentally friendly and strives for the highest standards.

Wool Pots have other benefits. They insulate plants in hot and cold weather and use less water than other types of pots.

Persuading Garden Centres was trickier, you can imagine the response we got when we told the buyers that we wanted to save the world by knitting plant pots, however a few got us and credit to Nick Jones at Blue Diamond who embraced the idea and was a great support.

Every gardener we speak to confesses to having a pile of plastic pots in their sheds or piled up somewhere out of sight, which they eventually take to the local tip. Where they will be sent to land fill.
When we show gardeners, our wool pots can be used just like a normal pot they are thrilled and amazed. You fill them with compost and put your seeds or cuttings, water them well, the plants will grow (there is some science involved to do with more oxygen reaching the roots through a Wool Pot) and then when the plants are big enough to be planted out, you just dig a hole and place the whole Wool Pot in, leave the collar of the pot proud of the soil as wool is a natural slug and snail deterrent. After a few weeks in the soil the pot breaks down and feeds the plant you planted. No Plastic, no disposal issues, and no waste.

Wool pots can also be used for indoor plants

Wool Pots won the Innovation in Wool award in 2022 which was fantastic, we also won the best new product at the Garden Press event which is given by the horticulture industry – this was a huge surprise, I must work on my “prize face” as there are some very interesting photos of me looking like a stunned mullet!

The reaction to Wool Pots has been great, gardeners love them, and we have been learning more about them ourselves. Wool Pots wick up water and store it inside the pot, in warm weather like last summer we discovered they slowly release the moisture which evaporates from the sides of the pot making it cooler, in the “control” plastic pot the whole pot heats up and used a third more water. The weave of the wool allows more oxygen in and promotes strong root growth which in turn promotes stronger plant growth.

We have had a number of trial plantings with the River Cottage team, a large supplier of herbs and the Eden Project and all found much stronger growth with plants planted in Wool Pots…

Wool Pots planted 500 oak saplings as part of the Plant a tree for the Jubilee campaign.

We are working with a few big nurseries who are very forward thinking. They send out a lot of plants including large 6 litre pot bound ones and bare root stock. We have made larger prototype Wool Pots so the plants can be transferred into them, and the nurseries can re-use their large plastic pots. A 6litre plastic pot weighs between 170 – 200g and our research shows there is a 6-1 ratio of plastic to CO2 created, this means a single 6 litre plastic pot creates 1.2kg of CO2. The company we are in trials with sell around a million of these a year so simply by reusing them they reduce the amount of CO2 created by 1.2 million kg a year (1,200 tonnes).

We have teamed up with Lancaster University to discover some of the facts about plastic, this is unverified but comes from a reliable source, every 1 kg of plastic produces 6 kg of CO2, an average plastic plant pot weighs between 70-100g (we will use 100g to keep the maths easier!) so every plant pot creates 600g of CO2 in it’s manufacture, this doesn’t count the packaging and shipping! Come to think of it plastic plant pots are delivered in big plastic trays, usually with plastic handles and each plant has a plastic label so we have a way to go still.

We continually look to raise awareness about the problem with plastic and to promote our Wool Pots (Thanks Manoj!)

We are working on new ideas and will continue to create new products using this most versatile natural material.

To find out more have a look at our website and please follow us on Instagram Wool Pots UK where you will see some lovely photos of Wool Pots, some plastic facts and of course a selection of really baa-d sheep jokes.

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