Wool is a long-life fibre, maintaining its moisture retention properties and flexibility for many years. It will then biodegrade in soil without harm to the planet and the environment, fulfilling optimum life-cycle benefits.
Wool grows naturally on sheep, and is made of a protein called keratin – the same protein that is in human hair. During the biodegradation process, fungi first destroy the ends of the wool fibre. Bacteria then digest the weakened fibre by secreting enzymes. The carbon-to-nitrogen-ratio of wool is quite narrow, meaning that wool has a high percentage of nitrogen. This high percentage of nitrogen is the reason wool biodegrades so well.
How does wool biodegrade?
In order for a wool product such as a jacket to biodegrade it needs to be buried in soil, which provides the necessary microbes, moisture, temperature and pH-value. Tests show that with the ideal conditions wool products are almost completely degraded after six months in the ground. Seams may not degrade as easily as the rest of a garment, because they consist of a double (hence thicker) layer of fabric and are often sewn with polyester thread. The dyes used on a wool product do not impact the results.
Why is biodegradability important?
Products that are biodegradable are part of a natural cycle. They come from nature and go back to nature, enriching the soil and nourishing new life. In the UK alone, around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing and 370,000 tonnes of carpets go to landfill every year. The numbers are similar for other developed countries. Products made out of synthetic fibres can take 30-40 years to degrade, contributing to the ever-increasing piles of waste in landfills. Because it naturally degrades in a fraction of that time, wool is the obvious choice for anyone concerned about the health of our planet.
Biodegradable but also durable
Consumers can rest assured as wool will not biodegrade while being worn or used under normal conditions. Moreover, because wool is a durable and high-quality performing fibre, it will last for years before this final stage is even a consideration.
For more information on biodegradability access the IWTO fact sheet.