Impact Awardee

Joanne Howarth

Planet Protector Packaging

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Planet Protector Packaging manufactures environmentally responsible insulated packaging made from sheep waste wool for transport of temperature-sensitive goods.

09. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

11. Sustainable cities and Communities

12. Responsible consumption and Production

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Oceania

Australia

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FELLOW

2020

Shear Genius: Sheep Tackle a Global Challenge

For more than 70 years, polystyrene has dominated global cold supply chains, primarily to insulate shipments of pharmaceuticals and temperature-sensitive foods. Yet this useful plastic product devastates the environment. Annually, the packaging industry generates about 42 percent of the more than eight million metric tons of plastic waste entering oceans, where plastic microbeads break down and are ingested by marine life. Moving up the food chain, plastic threatens biodiversity and, increasingly, human health. In landfills, polystyrene takes more than 500 years to degrade and releases harmful methane.

Joanne Howarth encountered polystyrene’s pervasive challenges in 2015 when she became the outsourcing partner to what is now Australia’s largest meal kit provider. “I was surrounded by a sea of polystyrene,” she says. “I used to watch in horror as forklift drivers unloaded entire trucks full of this insidious material. I saw the urgent need to find a sustainable alternative.”

Who would have thought that the humble sheep would be a secret weapon in the fight against the global waste crisis?

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Sheep to the Rescue

Joanne founded Planet Protector Packaging in response to the global plastic waste crisis and its impact on the environment, the oceans, and climate change. The company provides an ecologically sound polystyrene substitute by diverting inferior non-textile grade wool from landfills and giving it a second life as a sustainable insulation material. “When people transition away from polystyrene, they need a replacement that delivers on food safety, thermal performance, and temperature stability,” Joanne says.

Nature has inspired the company’s flagship product, Woolpack, which leverages the thermal properties of wool that keep sheep warm in winter and cool in summer. And wool is compostable and biodegradable, able to break down and return valuable nutrients to the soil. Woolpack is part of a global shift in design innovation toward sustainable solutions that mimic nature, providing a positive environmental and social impact and supporting businesses transitioning to the new, regenerative, circular economy.

In collaboration with Australia’s Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Center, Planet Protector is investigating the viability of fiber blends and the potential to incorporate agricultural waste fibers like cotton, corn, and sugarcane into a new product line for the wine industry, where temperature fluctuations in transit can diminish quality.

In the economy of nature, there is no such thing as waste, everything is recycled.

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Keeping Thousands of Tons of Plastic Out of Landfill

Trading since 2016, Planet Protector has diverted more than 4,000 tons of waste wool from landfills, eliminated more than eight million polystyrene boxes from supply chains, and generated $7.5 million in new revenues to sheep farmers. It now works with more than 400 impact-driven businesses across Oceania that share its vision. Immediate plans include expansion into Southeast Asia. Long term, Joanne envisions Planet Protector Packaging as a global company.

As recent pandemic responses have increased shipping demand, the company’s mission to eliminate ocean-destroying polystyrene has escalated. “In the last two years, we've doubled our year-on-year business,” Joanne says. “As humans collectively retreated indoors during the pandemic, we have had a taste of a world in harmony with nature that enables economic growth, prosperity, and equity without the need to mindlessly extract earth’s natural resources.”

Joanne reserves a special place in her heart for the sheep and the unique flock that holds pride of place at the Planet Protector offices. “Wherever I go, I buy sheep in all shapes and sizes,” she says, referring to her collection. “I even have a sheep with dreadlocks.” Each Planet Protector team member has their own named sheep, representing not only teamwork but also the passion and commitment to natural, sustainable fibers that underpins Planet Protector’s environmental ethos.

Our ultimate goal is to become the market leader in sustainable thermal packaging that does not harm the planet.

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PHOTO GALLERY

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