Is wool-worth it?

Olivia Wallis knits together the environmental impacts of the warmest winter material...

Olivia Wallis
11th February 2019

It is considered that wool is one of the best natural fibres available. Wool has the unique ability to respond to changes in body temperature, acting to keep you cool in summer while cosy in winter. Although it’s a natural insulator, a renewable resource and an easy to-care-for biodegradable fabric, wool itself is not the problem. In reality, the entire production line from sheep to shop is at fault, sparking controversy as continual production threatens land and air quality, as well as future water supplies.

Like everything that is mass-produced in the world today, it is without doubt that the production of wool affects the environment in a substantial way. The most significant effects have been felt in Argentina, where intensive farming methods have led to increased land degradation. This is evident in the dilapidating ranches in the Patagonian region, where land that has been cleared for grazing has altered the local vegetation and eroded the soil. Not only has this impacted the local environment, but has weakened Argentina’s presence as a global producer and exporter of wool. In 1989, Argentina exported 152 thousand tons of wool, however, today those number have dropped significantly to 63 thousand, highlighting the detrimental effects it is having on people and their lives.

Land degradation is one of the many problems the environment faces. Further issues apparent are a result of the manure generated from livestock, which significantly contributes to rising greenhouse emissions. This is otherwise known as enteric fermentation, where flatulence and belching from livestock is emitted into the atmosphere in the form of methane gas, consequently adding to global warming and damaging the environment in the process.

Water is a finite resource around the world and a significantly precious commodity in relation to wool production. This is because it takes a staggering 500,000 litres of water to raise the sheep and clean the wool fibre to produce just 1 metric ton of wool. In order for the production process to continue, a chemical procedure takes place called ‘sheep dipping’. This involves the use of insecticides and fungicides, where sheep are immersed in a highly intoxicating trough of water to coat them in this ‘protective’ substance, that helps to shield them from external parasites. However, much of this liquid seeps into local water supplies thereby contaminating the local environment. Without clean water supplies, the world will not have a sustainable future.

This begs the question, how might we become more ethically and environmentally conscious in our purchasing choices? Well, you can begin by shopping at vintage stores, second-hand charity shops and ebay, where recycled clothes are given a second, if not third chance at a longer use-life. Once you have made this transition you could begin looking for apparel that is made from either organic or recycled wool. Not only does this constitute a demand for sustainably raised organic wool, but works to promote more environmentally friendly techniques to be used within the wool production industry. Thinking consciously about your individual purchasing choices is a small step in the right direction, a small step that can change not only your own perception, but others as well, and help reduce your carbon footprint.

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