Farmers fume at Government after synthetic carpet from US used in schools instead of NZ wool

The Government is being accused of sending mixed messages with its climate stance after it chose to install synthetic carpets from the US in rural schools instead of New Zealand wool. 

A Government-funded initiative has chosen to install synthetic carpets in more than 800 small and remote schools throughout New Zealand. 

The program, Improving Classrooms for Small and Remote Schools (ICSRS), is being delivered by the Ministry of Education and includes improved classroom lighting, sound insulation, electrical upgrades and the replacement of carpet in the teaching spaces.

The Ministry of Education awarded the carpet tender to global manufacturer Milliken Group - an American-based company that manufactures solution-dyed nylon carpets, chemical products, textile materials, and healthcare goods. 

Ministry of Education Head of Property Sam Fowler told Newshub Milliken were selected because they had the best overall value. 

But the decision has caused uproar with farmers and some teaching professionals. One primary school principal called it "totally hypocritical" and "quite defeating". 

The Campaign for Wool New Zealand believes local manufacturers should be getting the Ministry of Education contract - not off-shore, plastic-made products. 

The campaign's general manager, Tom O'Sullivan, told AM on Thursday he is disappointed with the decision. 

O'Sullivan told AM co-host Ryan Bridge he is confused about how the Government could allow this as it "doesn't sit right" with its agenda around climate change and the environment.

"We're constantly being told we're a Government or a country that is leading the world in initiatives to protect the environment and deal with climate change and this seems to go on to specify plastic, fossil fuel-derived carpets into schools goes right against that message," he told AM. 

"I guess a lot of New Zealanders will be looking at it and going, well, that just doesn't make sense." 

The announcement comes the same week plastic produce bags and stickers, plates, bowls, cutlery and straws were all being taken off the shelves. It was the second round of a national plastics phase-out, which targets single-use and hard-to-recycle items.

O'Sullivan said the awarding of the carpet tender sends the complete opposite message from what Government has been saying about climate change and will confuse a lot of rural Kiwis. 

It wasn't just O'Sullivan that was frustrated with the decision. Pūrākanui Primary School principal Nicky Bell said installing nylon carpets in teaching spaces goes against the school's ethos as an Enviroschool. 

"It's pretty disappointing to be honest. No one wants ugly synthetic carpet squares that do not align with our values. It just really goes against everything we stand for," Bell told the Otago Daily Times. 

But Sam Fowler said the decision for schools in the programme to use the procured carpet is up to each individual school. 

State schools have the option to install carpets of their choice outside of the programme using other capital funding they receive for property improvements, Fowler said. 

"The Ministry has a large programme of investment that sees improvements made across the more than 2000 state schools in New Zealand," Fowler said. 

"The Ministry doesn't advocate for specific products and in school-led projects involving the installation of carpet, schools are able to make their own product choices. " 

Fowler said Milliken outperformed wool carpet tile providers in three categories - performance specifications,  the supplier's approach to working with the ministry and cost.  

"In primary schools, carpets endure heavy use, wear, and dirt, so it's important for the product to last a long time and be cost-effective in the long run," Fowler said.

"The selected carpet tiles exceed the Ministry's warranty requirements and therefore won't need to be replaced frequently. The selected product is also materially less expensive than other options.

"Based on the information and analysis we conducted, solution-dyed nylon not only met our product performance requirements but also fulfilled our recycling and carbon footprint goals. " 

The decision also didn't go down well with AM viewers who wrote in to voice their anger. 

One person said it was "completely ironic on so many levels" while another added, "Once again supporting our wool industry is being sacrificed". 

But others also emailed in saying nylon is more durable especially if kids are going to be playing on it, so synthetic is better for a classroom environment. 

Watch the full interview with Tom O'Sullivan in the video above.