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AWEX EMI 1158 +16
Micron 17 1717 +27
Micron 18 1542 +20
Micron 19 1438 +20
Micron 20 1364 +12
Micron 21 1322 +16
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Micron 28 362 +10
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MCar 766 +4

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 BULLETIN

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.

Research has commenced at the University of New England (UNE) to test promising new methane mitigating technology. The project is aiming to quantify 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.

The project will undertake two grazing studies and two pens studies that will deliver key information for producers to use Asparagopsis – red algae with safety and efficacy. The form supplied from Sea Forest is Asparagopsis in canola oil. The UNE research is being funded by AWI in combination with a $500,000 grant secured through the Federal Government’s Methane Emissions Reduction in Livestock (MERiL) program. The research is scheduled for completion by June 2024.

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