Wool, by nature a circular fibre, can help brands enter more easily into the development of circular products.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines the circular economy as being based on the principles of using renewable resources, designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use for a long time, and regenerating natural systems.
Why wool is a circular fibre
Circular and sustainable design integrates transparency from the beginning, where a garment has a meaningful positive impact throughout its entire lifecycle. Here’s why wool is, by nature, a circular fibre.
100% Natural, renewable and biodegradable
No other fibre, natural or man-made, can match all of wool’s naturally inherent benefits.
Reduce waste and pollution
Wool uses 18% less energy than polyester and nearly 70% less water than cotton to produce 100 sweaters.
The most reused and recycled fibre in the world
Natural, renewable and biodegradable, wool is the most reused and recyclable fibre on the planet of the major apparel fibres.
Wool has been deemed circular since 1813, when Benjamin Law famously developed a process using recycled woollen rag combined with virgin wool to make a material called shoddy.
Whilst innovative products and processes have certainly come a long way since the 1800s, the principle remains the same. Wool’s inherent benefits, such as being 100% natural, renewable, biodegradable and recyclable make it inherently circular and the ultimate choice when designing for longevity.
Highly valued in the open loop recycling process, wool’s flame resistance and insulation also make it valued in the closed-loop recycling process, with these properties making wool sought after for insulation products such as mattresses or automotive interiors.
A circular economy goes hand-in-hand with a regenerative one
In the Material Circularity Indicator by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, wool gets the highest score possible just like other renewable fibres, and as opposed to LCA-based ratings. This recommends wool, a natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre, for the circular economy.
Not only is the fibre circular, many Australian woolgrowers use regenerative farming techniques that enhance the biodiversity, fertility, health and carbon sequestration of their farm environment.
Designing for a circular economy with wool
Use renewable resources
A sheep’s fleece grows back every year, making wool a renewable fibre. This natural process means that sheep sequester carbon, with wool containing about 50% carbon.
Keep materials and products in use for a long time
Wool is typically kept longer than other garments and are often easy to repair. Wool has high heritage and second-hand value and requires less laundering.
Wool uses 18% less energy than polyester and nearly 70% less water than cotton to produce 100 sweaters. Wool fibres are 100% biodegradable in marine and terrestrial environments which means wool does not add to microplastic pollution.
Regenerate natural systems
Wool can regenerate natural systems and help build soil carbon through regenerative agriculture practices. Sheep live on land that is not used for growing food, and many woolgrowers encourage biodiversity.
Make fit for technical &/or biological cycles
Wool readily biodegrades in the biological cycle, releasing valuable nutrients to soil and marine environments. In the technical cycle, wool is the most reused and recyclable fibre on the planet of the major apparel fibres.
Global small and large-scale farms provide work for families and help build communities where there is mutual animal and human welfare.
Reduce Environmental Impacts
What can designers, brands and retailers do to help consumers reduce the impact of their garments? Our new toolkit explains scientific studies that show how consumers hold the power to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of their clothing and provides practical steps brands can implement to design for the circular economy.