Sustainability Concerns In Manufacturing Wool

In this article, we will examine the sustainability in manufacturing wool. When we talk about manufacturing wool, what exactly do we mean? To start off, let's find out a little more about it.

What Is Wool?

When you hear the word wool, you probably think about sheep. But did you know that “wool” is also taken from other animals? Camels, goats, rabbits and even some breeds of dog produce hair that can be termed wool. For our purposes, we are referring to the commercial production of wool from sheep.

Wool is actually the fiber keratin that is made up of protein. Our own fingernails and hair are also made of keratin.

In wool each fiber is made from three parts, the exterior protective layer called the cuticle. This layer resembles fish scales under a microscope, and it is this property that causes the fibers to interlock and stick together. The part beneath the cuticle is the cortex. It looks like millions of tiny cigar-shaped structures. These contain melanin and give color to the wool. It is the specific arrangement of the cortex cells that give wool its natural curly crimp. The final part is the medulla, although this isn't present in fine wool. These cells resemble honeycomb and create air spaces. These air spaces give wool its thermal properties.

Sustainability In The Wool Manufacturing Industry

All items that are produced impact the environment, naturally this affects sustainability in the wool manufacturing industry too. Growing awareness about how our environment is being damaged by our activities is of grave concern. Greater efforts are now being put in place to limit the damaging impact on the environment. The wool industry is ensuring their practices lessen the impact on the environment as far as possible. High environmental regulations have been put in place to reduce the problems associated with the clothing manufacturing process. When compared to the production of other organic and inorganic materials, wool has one of the smallest overall impacts on environmental damage.

What Makes Wool A Sustainable Material

Wool is an all natural fiber that grows on sheep. Therefore it is entirely renewable. As long as there are sheep, there will be wool. Wool is also a recyclable fabric. In fact, it is one of the most recycled fibers there are. Woolen products can be re-purposed for different uses rather than be dis-guarded after use. What other reasons make wool a planet-friendly product?

  • Wool is a durable fiber, and woolen products last for a long time.

  • Wool is totally biodegradable and quickly degenerates at the end of its lifespan. As it is carbon based it is beneficial to the soil, returning nutrients.

  • It has been shown, that typically woolen products are washed less often and at low temperatures than those made from other fabrics. Lowering their environmental impact when compared to other materials.

The Carbon Cycle

Plants convert carbon from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Sheep eat these plants, and this makes up 50% of the weight of their wool. Cotton is only 40% carbon, while viscose is 24%.

When carbon is “stored” in the wool, it is kept away from the atmosphere. This has a measurable effect on the CO2 in the atmosphere. It has been calculated that 1kg of clean, pure wool is equivalent to 1.8kg of CO2e. CO2e stands for Carbon-dioxide equivalent. It describes greenhouse gasses as a common unit. Co2e represents the quantity of CO2 that would generate the equivalent impact on global warming.

The global wool clip in 2014 generated approximately 1.05 million tons of clean wool. This can be equated to 1.9 million tons of CO2e. This means that for as long as the products made from this wool are being used, that amount of CO2 is being kept out of the atmosphere.

So as you can see sustainability in manufacturing wool is not difficult to achieve. With the implementation of cleaner practices, it can be further improved, and this is being actively worked on by the industry.