Dutch wool: from waste material to valuable product

The Dutch collective Hollands Wol Collectief (Dutch Wool Collective) aims to process Dutch wool, currently seen as a waste product, locally and use it to make circular, high quality products.

In the 18th and 19th century, the wool industry in the Netherlands flourished, but is now all but vanished. The wool could be processed cheaply in low income countries like China, but due to Covid-19, transportation costs have increased, and China has closed its borders for European wool. In addition, wool fibres are often replaced by cheaper synthetic fibres.

Currently, sheep in the Netherlands are used for the production of meat and milk, or for grazing of natural reserves. Since sheep have to be sheared because their wool continues to grow, Dutch sheep produce annually 1.5 million kg of wool. At the current wool prizes, white wool only earns 10 cents per kg, while black wool costs 10 cents to get rid of. This means it is actually cheaper to throw away wool than to process it into valuable products.

The founders of the Hollands Wol Collectief, Janne de Hoop and Mirthe Snoek, thought this was a waste. Wool has a lot of great qualities; it is air-purifying, insulating, moisture regulating, fire retardant, and acoustic, amongst other things.

The collective aims to bring back the wool processing industry to the Netherlands. It buys wool from suppliers, ensures the correct processing and sells it on to producers who make beautiful products from the wool. The best quality wool is used to make clothing like sweaters and scarfs, or interior products. Currently, Dutch sheep aren’t bred to have pleasant, soft wool, as the wool is hardly used, which is why most wool for clothing is imported is merino wool from Australia and New Zealand. The aim of the collective is to make sure Dutch sheep are bred for their wool again, improving the quality.

Lesser quality wool is used to make insulation, for instance for roof substrate for green roofs, which is currently made from plastic products. Even the dirty parts that come from the sheep’s legs is processed into plant food.

As of now, 75 sheep farmers have applied for the collective, and more can sign up. When the first wool products are ready for sale, they will appear on the Hollands Wol Collectief website.