Wool & Recycling

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Wool’s post-consumer life cycle stage reveals wool’s true sustainability benefits

The so called post-use phase of wool begins when a consumer donates or disposes of a wool product. The wool product is then either re-used by another consumer in the same form or it can go through different recycling stages and become another type of wool product.

Research conducted by Prof. Stephen Russell of Leeds University revealed that while wool has a only a 1.3% market share in the total fibre market, among recycled textile fibres wool holds a 5% share. This indicates that wool items are of higher quality and durability to be lasting longer in order to perform in their second life. Additionally wool is a valuable fibre very well suitable for the recycling process.

Environmental Assessment Tools Exclude the Post-Consumer Phase

When it comes to calculating the environmental footprint of a textile product, the impacts decrease the longer an item is in use either through the re-use or recycling stage. Due to wool’s many lives wool therefore is a sustainable textile fibre.

However, today’s environmental benchmarking tools assume that clothing is landfilled at the end of life and do not consider the post-consumer phase. Benchmarking tools often calculate the life span of a textile garment as one year from cradle to grave. Wool’s cradle-to-grave reality can involve two or more lives and a total ‘active’ life of up to 20-30 years. Allowing post-consumer data into environmental benchmarking tools can therefore make a huge difference on the assessment of the sustainability of a garment made with wool.

This is a challenge for the wool industry that IWTO's Sustainable Practices Working group is addressing through its active engagement with various environmental benchmarking tools.

More Research Needed

One challenge is the lack of post-consumer data that is needed for all textile fibres, not only wool, in order to make fair calculations about this part of a products life cycle. In this regard, the wool industry is committed to undertaking further research to gather valuable data to map the flow of wool fibre beyond the first use phase and make this available to the public.

However, sustainability does not happen in environmental benchmarking as these are just tools to help the textile industry improve its supply chains. Sustainability happens in everyday life where further challenges lie ahead for wool to be able to perform at its best. These challenges include:

  • Finding solutions for consumers to donate more of their wool garments
  • Designing textile products with the second and third life of the product in mind
  • Labelling and branding of post-consumer wool products
  • Mapping the wool fibre flows beyond the first use phase
  • Analysing the actual wear-life of clothing

With this outlook in mind, IWTO and its Sustainable Practices Working Group will continue delivering research and data in order to assess wool’s true environmental benefits.

Prof. Stephen Russell on wool recycling:

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