Merino and natural fibres could help clothing companies battle scourge of microplastics

Microplastics are one of the biggest threats to oceans and synthetic textiles are a huge contributor to the problem, but now a New Zealand company is hoping to lead change by promoting the use of natural fibres like merino wool.

The issue of microbeads in beauty products is well known, but tiny plastic fibres from clothing are an even bigger issue for oceans and marine life.

For example, each time people wash their synthetic clothing these microplastic fibres break off and, because they’re so tiny, they’re then carried into rivers and eventually oceans.

“How much synthetics people wear, how often they wash their clothing, what kind of washing machines they have,” said Professor Linn Hoffmann, from the Botany department at Otago University.

A recent report indicates synthetic clothing accounts for 35 per cent of microplastic pollution in oceans, compared with just two per cent from microbeads.

So the New Zealand Merino Company's investing in research and development to see how natural fibres like merino can help, including travelling to Europe for talks with textile and clothing manufacturers.

“They’re realising the responsibility that companies must play in terms of what's happening in the world,” said chief executive John Brackenridge.

What makes merino so unique is its super fine natural fibres, and it's biodegradable, taking only months to break down, compared to synthetics which can take thousands of years.

"I think merino has just sort of been discovered by the world and by manufacturers, said Kate Cocks, owner of merino farm, Mount Nicholas Station. “Where people think 'right what else can I use this for'."

Price is a challenge, as merino fabric is much more expensive than synthetic fibre, but industry leaders say more and more consumers are making ethical choices.

"There's a lot of people that want to understand a lot more about what they're putting in their mouths, what they're putting in their bodies,” said Cocks. “Where it comes from, and what's the impact to the environment with the choices that they're making."

With New Zealand’s abundant wool resource, it could be the perfect place to lead the natural fibres movement.

Microplastics are one of the biggest threats to oceans, and synthetic textiles are a huge contributor to the problem. Source: 1 NEWS

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Family history much more likely than diet to cause gout - research

Gout is much more likely to be brought on by genetics than a poor diet which has long been thought of as the primary cause of the joint disease, new research suggests.

Gout can can cause extreme pain and swelling but scientists at Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, say people with the condition can be reluctant to get treatment because of the social stigma associated with having a poor diet.

The study, which was carried out here in New Zealand by a research team at the University of Otago, counters "these harmful but well-established views and practices, and provides an opportunity to address these serious barriers to reducing the burden of this common and easily treatable condition".

The Press Association reports researchers used data from more than 16,000 American men and women of European ancestry to reach its conclusions.

Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood, which can form crystals that collect around joints.

Consuming beer, wine, spirits, potatoes and meat can raise the risk of getting gout while cheese, eggs, peanuts and brown bread can lower it.

However, each of these foods or drinks is responsible for less than a one per cent variation in levels of the acid, the study found.

And a comparison of healthy and unhealthy diets showed there was only a 0.3 per cent variation in levels of the acid.

But almost a quarter of the variation could be explained by genetic factors.

Gout is most common in men 40 or older.

Long-held theories gout only affected old men with poor diets could be quashed. Source: 1 NEWS

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Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol to be mandatory in New Zealand

Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol will become mandatory in New Zealand under a decision made at the Australia New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in Adelaide.

Minister for Food Safety Damien O’Connor says mandatory labelling will strengthen the Government’s work to change drinking behaviour among pregnant women.

“Hundreds of babies a year are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder because of exposure to alcohol in the womb. We need to take every action to reduce this harm,” Mr O’Connor said.

While the alcohol industry has been voluntarily including warnings on some products for the past six years there is no consistency in the type, colour, size and design, reducing the effectiveness of the message, he said.

There has been strong and sound support from a range of groups calling for mandatory labelling, the Minister said.

The move brings New Zealand in line with other countries that legally require pregnancy warning labels on alcohol such as the US and France.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the bi-national food standards setting agency, will now develop an appropriate standard to bring back to the ministerial forum for approval.

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Exclusive: Nearly half a million Kiwis owe social development ministry $1.5 billion for loans

The Government agency in charge of taking care of New Zealand's most vulnerable is putting hundreds of thousands of people into debt.

The Ministry of Social Development has handed out $1.5 billion in loans, interest free, to 509,571 people for things like dentistry, school supplies and housing.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said a large amount of that money is over payments, "and then it's also hardship and then it's also fraud".

This comes as the Government cracks down on loan sharks.

Social agencies argue Work and Income is no better, given benefits remain too low to cover the basics.

"They end up having to repay money every week which means they can't afford to eat or meet their weekly costs, pushing them into shark loans," said Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty.

1 NEWS spoke to an Auckland mother of three who is struggling to make ends meet. She gets $589 on the benefit.

"I'm lucky enough if I can live week to week on what I receive, especially being in emergency housing," she said.

So when her car broke down she asked Work and Income for a loan, and again when she needed to go to the dentist.

She's also been able to borrow money from the state to secure housing and furniture.

"I owe over $23,000," she said.

The woman was expected to pay back $80 a week on her loan.

National says it would consider changing the law to wipe the debt.

"That's a policy that we'll be having a look at and exploring over the next period of time," Louise Upston, National's Social Development spokesperson said. 

Ms Sepuloni says her advisory group charged with looking at the welfare system will investigate debt.

But she stands by the decision to hand out loans.

"Access to a washing machine or a fridge are things that people may need to pay back," she said.

"And I think they're really important measures to have in place through MSD because you can actually get that type of advance for those things in a way where you're not paying huge amounts of interest on top of that."

The Auckland mother of three would like a pay rise. 

"Poverty is real in New Zealand, government just doesn't see it, " she said.

She's hoping to have her debt cleared too. 

But the minister says unless there's been a mistake, like an overpayment, she and others will be expected to pay the money back.

The Ministry of Social Development has handed out $1.5 billion in loans to half a million people to pay for the likes of the dentist and a house to live. Source: 1 NEWS


Hawke's Bay growing giant emphasising flexible schedules to increase Kiwi staff numbers

The Government is urging growers to look for labour in their own backyards and one growing giant in Hawke's Bay believes with the right approach, it's easily done.

Solo mother of three Dani Gibson was on the benefit for six years before she found a job that suited her.

She told 1 NEWS it was impossible to find work which fit in with her kids' lives before working at growing giant Turners and Growers.

Ms Gibson is one of 204 workers that have been working at Turners and Growers in the last year after coming from the Ministry of Social Development.

It comes as part of a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme - a policy allowing horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there aren't enough local workers.

Turners and Growers labour market manager Maurice Wilson told 1 NEWS, "In the past, we wouldn't have, but now we really cater to the needs of the individuals because we realise without people, we can't grow our business."

The company now emphasises flexible work hours and employee benefits like healthcare, which Ms Gibson says provides much-needed reassurance for her and her family.

"It feels good knowing that your kids are fine and that you've got a good job behind you as well that understand that," she said.

At peak season, 70 per cent of Turners and Growers' seasonal workforce is from MSD and locals - an example that the Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni wants others to set as well.

Ms Sepuloni told 1 NEWS during her visit to Hawke's Bay that the programme was about "making sure we are looking at our domestic labour market first and how we can ensure that we are giving New Zealanders jobs and that those jobs work for them in terms of the terms and conditions".

However, there are concerns that there will still be a working shortfall even with more locals added to the workforce.

Around 11,000 seasonal workers are brought into New Zealand through the RSE scheme annually, but the industry says with dropping unemployment and one million apple trees being planted every year, that number will have to increase to keep up.

Apples and Pears NZ's Alan Pollard believes the increase is inevitable.

"We only have a defined harvest window so the fruit has to come off at that time so more fruit means more people needed to pick the fruit," Mr Pollard said.

The sector is aiming to be worth $10 billion by 2020, but Ms Sepuloni hopes the growth can benefit unemployed New Zealanders.

"There are still people that are seeking work and we need to work with them to make sure they are able to take up these jobs," Ms Sepuloni said.

In the last year, Turners and Growers in Hawke’s Bay have employed 204 workers from the Ministry of Social Development’s books. Source: 1 NEWS