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Wool and the Environment
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
Reviewing the Life Cycle Assessment of clothing
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.
Microfibre Pollution from Apparel and Home Textiles
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.
Microfibre Pollution and Biodegradation in the Marine Environment
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 ultimate 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, according to the study, the machine-washable wool actually 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 founds no evidence that the treated wool’s polyamide resin coating added to microplastic pollution.
PlasticLeak Project develops quantification techniques to measure plastic pollution
Australian Wool Innovation collaborated with 35 organisations to develop the Plastic Leak Project (PLP) Guidelines. The 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.
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).
AWI leads Australia's RDCs on the Technical Advisory Board for the EU Product Environmental Footprint Project
Europe is now seeking to drive the adoption and potentially the enforcement of Product Environmental Labelling of (PEF) all types of goods, including clothing. They anticipate labelling products as soon as 2022 in order to guide consumers towards more sustainable choices. However, in the absence of strong methodology and data, there is a risk that 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.
EU Product Environmental Footprint Overview by CRSPI
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 Weidemann from Integrity Ag provided an overview of the EU Product Environmental Footprint.
Best Practise Wool Washing Frequency
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 Environmental Impacts of Wool-growing
There is a dearth 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 through case study investigations in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Publication of the findings in peer-reviewed journals will enable wool’s eco-credentials to be promoted in key markets.