Skip to main content

Your internet browser is out of date and not supported by this website. For the best viewing experience on wool.com, please update your browser to one of the options below.

AWEX EMI 1107 -
Micron 17 1610 -2
Micron 18 1454 -11
Micron 19 1357 -4
Micron 20 1301 +3
Micron 21 1284 +8
Micron 22 1281n +6
Micron 26 551n -13
Micron 28 368 -17
Micron 30 333 -7
Micron 32 290n +2
MCar 677 -13

Wool and the Environment

We collaborate with universities and institutions to identify the environmental benefits of wool within the supply chain.

To meet market demand for scientifically proven eco-friendly claims regarding Merino wool’s impact on the environment, we undertake a rigorous program of scientific studies researching the eco-credentials of wool.

We collaborate with universities and institutions to identify the impact wool has on the environment along the entire supply chain from the farm through processing and the use phase to the end-of-life of wool garments.

These collaborative projects are progressively published in peer-reviewed literature to demonstrate wool’s eco-credentials.

Current and recent projects

In collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology, the Oslo Metropolitan University and the National Institute of Consumer Research, Australian Wool Innovation commissioned this study to assess and report on the environmental impacts of the use-phase of textile fibres. The report provides scientific evidence of the importance of the use-phase of a garment on its overall environmental impact. The study shows that wool garments - compared to those made from other common apparel fibres - is washed at lower temperatures, is washed less often, is less likely to be tumble dried, have a longer lifespan and at the end of their first life are more likely to be reused or recycled. These findings indicate wool has a low environmental impact during the use-phase.

READ THE RESEARCH PAPER

Europe is seeking to drive the adoption and potentially the enforcement of Product Environmental Labelling of (PEF) all types of goods, including clothing. They anticipate labelling productsto guide consumers towards more sustainable purchasing choices. However, in the absence of strong methodology and data, there is a risk that trade-exposed Australian products may be disadvantaged. Australian Wool Innovation is leading this project to ensure representation of Australian agriculture on the EU Technical Advisory Board. Technical briefings will also be provided to Australian government representatives in Brussels to help inform policy on adoption of PEF labelling by industry and consumers.

It’s widely understood that wool, as a natural fibre, does not contribute to microplastic pollution, however concern was raised about whether the machine washability finish applied to the surface of the fibre may break down into microplastics. Consequently, Australian Wool Innovation collaborated with AgResearch to understand the fate of treated and untreated wool fibres as well as competing fibres, in the aquatic environment. The study confirmed that both untreated and machine washable wool readily biodegrade in marine environments, while synthetic fibres do not. In fact, , the machine-washable wool  biodegrades at a faster rate than untreated wool fabrics. Examination of the residues of biodegradation using scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy found no evidence that the treated wool’s polyamide resin coating added to microplastic pollution. Read more

READ THE RESEARCH PAPER

In collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology, the Oslo Metropolitan University and the National Institute of Consumer Research, Australian Wool Innovation commissioned literature review assessing microfibre pollution from textiles at production, use and end-of-life disposal. Plastic microfibres (<5 mm) and nanofibres (<100 nm) from clothing have been identified in ecosystems in all regions of the globe and have been estimated to comprise up to 35% of primary microplastics in marine environments. The study identified the growing risk of ecological and human health problems from microplastics, but acknowledged this is a new area of science and that reports showing harmful impacts are increasing. With the full impacts not yet clear, the authors recommended that the simple metric of mass or number of microfibres released be used as an interim mid-point indicator in sustainability assessment tools to support monitoring and mitigation strategies for microplastic pollution.

READ THE RESEARCH PAPER

Australian Wool Innovation collaborated with 35 organisations to develop the Plastic Leak Project (PLP) GuidelinesThe PLP Guidelines provide the first science-based methodology to map and measure plastic leakage into the environment from industry. These guidelines represent an important first step in accounting for plastics and microplastics. They enable the quantity of microplastics released by supply chains to be assessed but not the harmful impact they cause, as this research remains to be completed.  The guidelines will help industry identify the scale of plastic and microplastic pollution, and initiate mechanisms to reduce them.

DOWNLOAD THE GUIDELINES

Technical Working Group formed to Assess the Methods for Reporting Global Warming Potential

Ruminants such as cattle, goats and sheep emit the greenhouse gas methane during digestion of pasture, contributing to global warming. However, there is growing recognition that current methodology for reporting Global Warming Potential does not adequately capture the different behaviours of long-lived climate pollutants (i.e. CO2) relative to short-lived climate pollutants (i.e. methane).

Europe is seeking to drive the adoption and potentially the enforcement of Product Environmental Labelling of (PEF) all types of goods, including clothing. They anticipate labelling productsto guide consumers towards more sustainable purchasing choices. However, in the absence of strong methodology and data, there is a risk that trade-exposed Australian products may be disadvantaged. Australian Wool Innovation is leading this project to ensure representation of Australian agriculture on the EU Technical Advisory Board. Technical briefings will also be provided to Australian government representatives in Brussels to help inform policy on adoption of PEF labelling by industry and consumers.

AWI is funding partner of the Climate Research Strategy for Primary Industries (CRSPI) which invests in climate research, development and extension (RDE) for Australia’s primary industries.

In 2021 CRSPI hosted the Online Climate and Emissions Reduction in Agriculture Forum 2021. At the 2021 forum Steve Wiedemann from Integrity Ag provided an overview of the EU Product Environmental Footprint.

 

Wool’s innate ability to resist odour development means it needs to be washed less often than other clothing types, reducing the environmental footprint of wool clothing. Consumer surveys confirm that wool clothing is indeed washed at a reduced frequency but it’s not yet clear whether the full potential of wool is being realised. This project is assessing the potential to further reduce the washing frequency of wool garments to reflect best practice and improve wool’s eco-credentials. The project will identify and recommend best practice laundry protocols to benefit both the wearer and the planet.

The European Commission has outlined its strategy for sustainable and circular textiles, with emphasis on the design, re-use and recyclability of textiles placed on the EU market.

EPR

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is an approach to environmental policy in which producers, such as brands, have responsibility for the disposal and management of their products when they reach the end of their primary life. The European Union (EU) is looking to implement an EPR scheme for textiles across its member states.

 

Unlike many other materials, wool has a history and infrastructure for recycling, with a commercially viable recycling industry existing for over 200 years, however, with the implementation of EPR, the benefits of wool are sometimes misunderstood or misrepresented due to a knowledge gap of wool’s full life cycle.

The EPR project identified and evaluated these knowledge gaps, so that the EPR benefits of wool can be communicated explicitly to multiple audiences, such as brands, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)/EU decision-makers, media, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) woolgrowers and the whole of the wool industry.

 

On-Farm R&D

The Environmental Impacts of Wool-growing

There is a shortage of scientific evidence supporting the claim that well managed and profitable wool producing properties can improve environmental outcomes such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and recovery of threatened native species. This knowledge gap is being addressed and publication of the findings in peer-reviewed journals will enable wool’s eco-credentials to be promoted in key markets.  

Current Projects

Research is underway exploring the benefit of storing carbon in the soil and vegetation, known as carbon sequestration, for improving natural capital (including biodiversity) and farm performance. The research aims to provide the regionally relevant and proven techniques for storing carbon, to reduce the decision-making burden for farmers – so that proven pathways can be adopted as soon as possible. The term ‘regen ag’ is sometimes used to describe these practices because sequestering carbon in the landscape has many positive knock-on effects, including increasing biodiversity and improving the water-holding capacity of the soil – which in turn helps make the farm more resistant to drought.

Farming for the future is a national research program initiated by the Macdoch Foundation, which aims to provide evidence for the relationship between natural capital and farm profitability, with specific insight on biodiversity using the ecological assessment process called Natural Capital Accounting. 10 NSW wool growers are participating in Phase 2 of the project which includes up to 400 farms, with a further 1000-1500 farms expected to participate in Phase 3 commencing in July 2023. Case studies and publications will provide specific insight on the potential co-existence of natural capital and farm profitability for Australian woolgrowers.

The Carbon Storage Partnership is an MLA-led initiative that aims to identify the most effective, regionally relevant techniques that woolgrowers can implement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon in soil and vegetation, and build biodiversity, whilst improving productivity.

Targeting Methane Abatement on Farm

Reducing wool industry greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Research and Development (R&D) investment for Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), to ensure that wool continues to be acknowledged as an environmentally sustainable fibre by all. The delivery of methane-mitigating feed additives to grazing sheep is one potential pathway to deliver this outcome. AWI initiated the National Sheep Methane Program (NSMP) which is a collaborative approach to research, development and adoption (RD&A) to implement practical and safe ways for producers to reduce methane emissions in Australian sheep grazing systems. The NSMP is coordinated across sheep producing states, involving the University of New England (UNE), the University of Western Australia, New South Wales (NSW) Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Developmen Western Australia (DPIRD).

$3 million of woolgrower levy funding is leveraging the Federal Government’s Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) grant funding, to deliver $9 million of research to explore the efficacy, safety, and delivery mechanisms of a range of additives, including Asparagopsis ssp. Agolin® Ruminant, Bromoform and 3-NOP (Bovaer). Federal Government funding is additional to other cash contributions and In-kind support from UNE, NSW DPI, UWA, PIRSA, Feedworks, SeaForest, DSM and Rumin8.

There are five projects involving AWI that have received funding so far through the first three stages of the Australian Government’s MERiL Grant Program. The projects are part of a broad strategy by AWI in collaboration with other industry bodies to accurately identify and assess ways to reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions from grazing sheep through the supplementation of anti- methanogenic feed additives. Research has shown that feed additives can reduce methane emissions in sheep by 80%, under ideal conditions, whereby, these products work by inhibiting the production of methane in the animals’ digestive system. The NSMP is also addressing the challenge of supplying these feed additives to grazing sheep at scale by researching prospective delivery systems.

The NSMP research is exploring are two mechanisms for methane mitigation through feed additives. These are:

  1. Enzyme blockers, for example, Asparagopsis (ssp.), and 3-NOP (Bovaer), which work by inhibiting specific enzymes in the gut during digestion to prevent methanogenesis.
  2. Rumen modifiers, which on the other hand target the microbial population or activity in the rumen, influencing methane production indirectly by affecting the microbes that produce methane. These feed additives include essential oils, like Agolin® Ruminant.

Methane mitigation from grazing sheep using red algae (Asparagopsis ssp)

This project is quantifying the relationship between intake of Asparagopsis supplement and methane mitigation for grazing sheep, as influenced by factors including pasture quality, form and frequency of delivery. Preliminary results show a 50% average methane reduction in the grazing sheep flock when consuming Asparagopsis, delivered via pellets from a Greenfeed. Greenfeed Units are a commercially developed system that allow estimation of daily enteric methane production for large ruminants. Additionally, twice a day supplementation has been shown as optimal for sustained methane abatement in grazing sheep.

Project outcomes:

  • Understand and outline the commercial potential of red algae (Asparagopsis) feed supplements to reduce methane production for woolgrowers.
  • Data to support that Asparagopsis is safe to feed to sheep.

Researcher: UNE

Delivery and efficacy of antimethanogenic additives in grazing sheep

The project is evaluating delivery mechanisms for the commercial additive Agolin® Ruminant and a water-soluble and stabilised bromoform formulation (WSSB), for enteric methane mitigation in sheep. The project is examining and adapting the form and the delivery methods, acceptance, dose, and persistency of methane abatement, and identifying any other benefits when the additives are ingested by sheep.

Researchers: PIRSA and UWA

Project outcomes:

  • This project will demonstrate that two antimethanogenic additives – Agolin® Ruminant and WSSB can be effectively delivered via feed or in drinking water to sheep grazing in Australian production systems. It aims to demonstrate that these systems can produce a sustained reduction in methane emissions, while maintaining or improving animal health, wellbeing and production.

Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) to assess and refine delivery systems for anti-methanogenic additives

Supplementation programs rely on the assumption that animals within a mob will uniformly consume the required amount. In reality, uniform consumption is rarely the case, with some animals eating too much, some the right amount, and others too little. Tracking of feed intake of individual sheep is also absent in grazing scenarios, causing difficulty in estimating methane mitigation

This project is defining the feasibility of a ‘lick feeder’ and ‘loose lick feeder’ as delivery mechanisms for anti-methanogenic feed additives using Agolin® Ruminant and the use of RFID hardware, including preliminary ideas for user interface applications, to measure supplement intake by individual animals in a paddock situation.

Project outcomes:

  • Enhanced accuracy, robustness and useability of Low frequency (LF) RFID and ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID technology to estimate feed additive intake variability of individual animals accessing a feeder.
  • Determine the ability and effectiveness of lick feeders and loose lick feeders to provide feed additives at expected quantities required for methane abatement.
  • Understanding the potential use of ‘time spent at the feeder’ as a proxy for measuring actual intake.

Researcher: NSW DPI

A delivery solution for grazing sheep

This project is investigating a unique delivery system for sheep at grazing that will provide set quantities of anti-methanogenic supplements to individual sheep in flocks of up to 800 sheep using RFID tag technology.

Project outcomes:

  • An anti-methanogenic supplement delivery system that can deliver 100-200g/day of grain- based pellets or loose lick pellets to sheep on an individual basis, controlled using sheep RFID ear tag technology.
  • The ability to feed a supplement up to 4 times per day with pre-defined time access to the supplement.
  • A sound-based attractant system for sheep.
  • A reporting system that records how often individual sheep return to access offered feed.

Researcher: UNE

A national approach to sheep methane mitigation

This project is assessing the longer-term productivity impacts of anti-methanogenic additives over a 2-year trial period, and will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of integrating each additive into commercial grazing systems.

Project outcomes:

  • An understanding of productivity, reproduction, meat quality and animal health measures, as well as any safety issues associated with each feed additive over 2 years.
  • Delivery of a cost-benefit analysis of flock and supply chain level aggregated carbon projects, as well as an understanding of practical ways to audit the intake of anti-methanogenic additives.

UNE, PIRSA and UWA are taking responsibility for evaluating one of the three major anti- methanogenic additives, namely Asparagopsis at UNE, 3-NOP (Bovaer) at PIRSA and Agolin® Ruminant at UWA.

Environmental Sustainability

An increased investment focus for AWI’s on-farm research is in the new Environmental Sustainability program. This new program will address both an aim of the industry’s Wool 2030 plan that Australian wool production is moving towards carbon neutrality and likewise, a pillar of the Sheep Sustainability Framework which is Enhancing the Environment and Climate. Sustainability on farm is complementary to the business of wool growing, and addressing environmental sustainability issues such as biodiversity, soil health and pasture management, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation go together with increased productivity and profitability. The Environmental Sustainability program will link closely with the continued off-farm investment in the Eco-credentials program.

 

 

Articles That Might Interest You

Wool readily biodegrades in marine environments
Research funded by AWI has shown that machine-washable wool fibres as well as untreated wool fibres readily biodegrade in the marine environment, in contrast to synthetic fibres that do not. The research found no evidence to support the idea that the polyamide resin used as part of the machine-washable wool treatment forms microplastic pollution. Read more