Almost all packaging devised for transporting temperature sensitive product relies on the unique thermal properties of water (H20) to keep product at required temperature. Is sheep’s wool another naturally occurring miracle substance for imparting performance attributes to packaging?
The Wool Packaging Company Ltd (WPC) (www.thewoolpackagingcompany.com), based in sheepy Shropshire, UK, is developing packaging for vaccines using felted wool, a material with many promising attributes for manufacturing and packaging.
Since WPC’s launch in 2009, its patented Woolcool insulated courier boxes, pouches, and envelopes have been used for fresh and frozen foods delivery. With the backing of a six-figure grant from the UK government Technology Strategy Board, the firm is moving from proof-of-concept to R&D stage, focused on a specialized pharmaceuticals version of the insulated packaging.
“We are already working closely with three Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies and are conducting on-going validation trials together with them,” reports company spokesperson Nicky Fairweather.
Felted wool is a highly versatile product with advantages including superior thermal insulative properties. http://www.aetnafelt.com/felt_advantages.htm.
Woolcool has already been proven to maintain stable internal temperatures between 2°C and 8°C in excess of 72 hours, and this “more effectively than other packaging including polystyrene cartons, polyethylene foam, or air pocket products,” the company claims.
Felted wool incorporated in a packaging system could provide cushioning protection for fragile vaccine vials. In addition, sheep’s wool is available in abundance worldwide, and is compostable.
Could felted wool improve sustainability by reducing or eliminating polystyrene or polyurethane materials in transport containers? Hard to say. It depends on what the final packaging might look like, and the component parts used to protect the product against both climate and the rigors of distribution.
What we can say is there is an evident need for new approaches in protective thermal systems for vaccines. Vaccine wastage is running at above 50% globally, per WHO. Product exceeding storage temperatures is without doubt one cause of this waste.
Should felted wool perform as promised, and cost-effectively, it may yet develop as a welcome, natural alternative for cold chain shippers.