“Poop by post” innovation proves an equine environmental winner

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David Booth of Westgate Labs works on composting the pouches.
David Booth of Westgate Labs works on composting the pouches. The material is being used for new tree planting on a 73-acre nature reserve on reclaimed open-cast land. © Westgate Labs

A company in Britain offering worm egg counts by post will soon reap what it sows, with its biodegradable product pouches being composted and used for tree planting on a reserve on reclaimed mining land.

The innovation by postal worm egg count company Westgate Labs is just one of the steps that have contributed to a reduction in waste going to landfill of about 75% over the last three years.

The design of Westgate’s new lab testing kits transforms the biodegradable product pouches into a return envelope to send the samples to the laboratory in Northumberland for testing. This means Westgate is responsible for the full journey of the product from start to end as everything can be returned to source. Since it was founded in 1999, the business has worked on environmental improvements.

The compostable kits have an aqueous starch coating that gives a protective barrier and enables them to sit safely in damp tack and feed rooms. A compostable label is included for post-paid return of the samples and a ‘peelable’ strip is applied with compostable adhesive to re-seal the pouch for return. The pouches are printed with compostable vegetable ink that includes instructions to help customers to follow the sample return process. The materials are FSC certified and conform to EN13432 which verifies they are home compostable and plastic-free.

The pouch becomes the envelope to return the samples to the lab.
The pouch becomes the envelope to return the samples to the lab. © Westgate Labs

In the past year, thousands of pouches have come back through the post to be composted on the family farm where the lab was founded. The intention is for the material to be used for new tree planting on a 73-acre nature reserve that the family is establishing on reclaimed open-cast land. The site, Fen Letch, combines young mixed woodland, grassland and pond areas and already provides habitat for a wide range of species as well as contributing to important carbon sequestration.

The Fen Letch Reserve.
The Fen Letch Reserve. © Westgate Labs

Westgate Labs director Claire Shand was instrumental in the design of the new packaging and said it was exciting to see the first packs returned through the post in April last year.

“We had all sorts of concerns like would customers get the concept — would they find them hard to use and would the special compostable glue be strong enough to re-seal them for going through the post system? I don’t know if anything like this has been done before so it was all a bit of an unknown gamble!

The Fen Letch Reserve.
The Fen Letch Reserve. © Westgate Labs

“The returns are keeping our chief composter, AKA our founding Director David [Booth], very busy in the bins balancing the green and brown waste ratios to help them rot down well. It’s so satisfying to be able to deal with all this waste ourselves and use it for positive means.”

Shand said care was taken to ensure that every additional sticker on the packs was printed on the right grade of material and with vegetable ink “so that no nasties leach into the soil when they go into the bins”.

“The environment is something that’s really important to us here at Westgate so we continue to take every step we can to protect it.”

The company is thrilled that the move has proved popular with customers, who have been universally positive about the steps. It is also well through a project to transition additional packaging from its website and merchant sales to more sustainable packaging options.

Four retail test kits are available in the Westgate range; horse worm egg counts, pinworm tests, avian worm counts and faecal sand tests.
Four retail test kits are available in the Westgate range; horse worm egg counts, pinworm tests, avian worm counts and fecal sand tests. © Westgate Labs

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