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Do not let wool fool you

The nights are drawing in and we are going to want to wrap up warm on the sofa in our woolly jumpers. But wool also has a less fluffy side. Spoilers if you carry on reading.

The “Pulse of the Fashion Industry” report ranked the production of sheep’s wool as more polluting – for cradle-to-gate environmental impact per kilogram of material – than that of acrylic, polyester, spandex, and rayon fibres. Why?

Greenhouse gases

Raising and keeping sheep uses precious resources. Land is cleared and trees are cut down to make room for grazing, leading to increased soil salinity and erosion and a decrease in biodiversity. Sheep, like cows, release enormous amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. Top this off with the manure that is produced and you understand the increase in greenhouse gases.

Animal cruelty

On top of the horrendous environmental impact of wool, sheep suffer terribly in the industry. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has reported (with video evidence) that at nearly 100 facilities on four continents sheep are mutilated, abused, and skinned alive – even for “responsibly sourced” wool on disingenuously named “sustainable” farms. 

Sheep are sensitive prey animals and for millions of sheep worldwide, shearing is a terrifying, painful ordeal. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, they work at high speed in order to maximise their earnings. Eyewitnesses saw gentle[RJ(2]  sheep being kicked, punched in the face, and stamped on in a crude attempt to restrain them. This violence has been documented in Argentina, Australia, Chili, the US and recently in the  UK, where workers were recorded slamming sheep’s heads into the floor. Industry initiatives like the “Responsible Wool Standard” have not improved things, as too many businesses carry on as usual behind a façade of ethical behaviour.

Vegan fabrics

Luckily there are more and more options out there for consumers who want to steer clear of wool but also do not like the sustainability issues and carbon footprint associated with synthetic materials.

Colombian university students invented the revolutionary Woocoa, a wool-like material made from coconut and hemp and they won an award at last year’s Biodesign Challenge for their pioneering work.

Nullarbor is another alternative:  a vegan wool made from coconut by-products. Other environmentally sound wool replacements include Tencel, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, soyabean fabric, linen, and recycled fibres. So moving towards an alternative is a small price to pay when you care about your carbon footprint and animal welfare.

The other side?

Looking at wool from a different angle, what you also see is a natural, renewable fibre that does not shed microplastics and grows back every year. This makes it sustainable in the eyes of many. So what to do? My advise would be to really inform yourself as much as possible on the origin of the wool to find out the true nature of it.

Read an interesting background article on mulesing here.


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