Wool and the magic 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When it comes to sustainable consumer behaviour many of us know the three Rs which stand for Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. If you need a little reminder, then watch Jack Johnson sing a lovely song about it.

In this blog post, we want to explore how garments made of wool can help us to reduce, reuse and recycle in an easy way.

Reduce the number of clothes needed

In our last blog post about the use phase, we already talked a little bit about how wool garments can help us reduce the use of water, energy and detergents.
We also discussed wool being a very durable fibre. This means wool garments last longer compared to garments made of other fibres. Wearing your wool garments for a long time helps you reduce the number of new clothes you need to buy.

In order to ensure that you wear your (wool) garments for as long as possible take a few things into consideration when choosing a new garment:

  • Quality – is the garment well made
  • Design – Is the design of the garment timeless or designed in such a way that I will be happy to wear it for several seasons?
  • Style and fit – does the garment really suit my body well, do I feel good in it when wearing it? Does the garment fit well, is it too big or too small?
  • Colour – is the colour suitable for my skin complexion? Can the colour be worn with many of my other wardrobe items? Will I like the colour for a long time?
  • Versatility – can I wear the garment to several different occasions? Running, hiking, leisure time, travel etc.?

Extend the life of your wool garment

The second R to help us reduce our environmental impact is ‘Reuse’ which also has several different aspects to consider.

Repair and extend the life of your garment

One way of extending the life of a garment is simply by repairing it whenever needed. Merino garments can sometimes get a little hole which can easily be stitched up. Alternatively, you could cover a hole with a little patch. If you don’t think you can repair your wool garment yourself find a local tailor who can help you extend the life of your beloved garment. You may think that a stitched up hole or cut in your garment might not look so nice. Try shifting your perspective and view each hole as something that makes your garment unique and special. Maybe you even got a certain hole during one of your outdoor adventures, then it is like a souvenir of that special moment with a story you will never forget.

Alter and update your garment

Sometimes our wool garments no longer fit well or we don’t like something about them anymore. Before throwing them out we can see if some alterations can make us love the garment again.
Maybe you started running in your merino wool garments which made you lose weight. Congratulations! But now you feel your garments are too baggy on you. Before throwing everything out and buying new clothes consult a tailor to see if your garments can be trimmed down to fit you well again. Are you not getting any use of that long sleeve garment? Ask your tailor to shorten the sleeves and you may enjoy your new t-shirt at a very little cost.

Reuse – give your garment a second and third life

Let’s face it, there are occasionally some garments which simply don’t fit into our lifestyle or wardrobe (anymore), no matter how hard we try. The best thing to do in this case is to find someone who will get joy out of your unloved items. As wool clothes are very durable they are perfect to hand off or resell to somebody where they will have a second or even third life. Research actually found that the percentage of wool garments being reused by someone else is much higher compared to garments made of other fibres.

Donate and hand me down

A simple way to extend the life of a wool garment is to hand it down to a family member or friend or donate it to your local charity shop.

Swop and resell

If you think your wool garment has a lot of value, you can also try selling it on ebay or similar second-hand e-commerce platforms. Some cities also have swapping communities or parties where you exchange your garment for another garment.

Recycle – new life in a different form

At some point of your wool garment’s life it will no longer be used and therefore disposed. However, wool garments should not just be thrown away into landfills but instead, be collected for recycling.
Wool fibre is well suited for recycling and a precious raw material for recycling companies. Different systems exist for wool recycling. One system cuts up the wool garments and creates so-called shoddy which is used in mattresses, insulation or simple felted blankets. Another system sorts wool garments by colour and mechanically shreds the garments into short wool fibres ready to be spun into recycled wool yarns.
Inform yourself where you can submit your wool garment for recycling within your community.

There you have it. This was our little guide on how you can reduce your own environmental impact by wearing wool. If you have some more ideas on how to take good care or provide a second life for your wool garment, then let us know, we would love to hear your ideas.

Reduce your own environmental impact with wool

We all love our (Core) merino wool garments because we love how comfortable wool makes us feel. However, at Core Merino we like to argue that there is another reason to love having wool in our closets and in our life: Wool helps us reduce our own environmental impact and therefore live a more sustainable life – something our planet urgently needs from all of us right now.

What do we mean by that? As you know, everything we humans do or use has an environmental impact in some way or the other. The same is true for our clothes as we need to regularly wash, dry and iron them. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research shows that the use phase of our clothes has actually the highest environmental impact compared to the production and manufacturing stages of a garment.

The environmental impact comes from water and energy use as well as the use of detergents and other chemicals. Just think about how often you wash your clothes (e.g. after one wear) and other home textiles such as towels and bed linen?

The good news is, however, that the use phase is exactly where each and every one of us can get active to reduce our own environmental impact. And surprise, surprise, we can reduce our impact by wearing wool. Let’s dive into the details.

No need to wash – that often

The research identified that we typically wash our wool clothes less often compared to other clothes. On average a wool garment is worn 3 times before thrown in the washing machine compared to a cotton t-shirt being washed after 1,5 wears. The need to wash wool garments less often, is based on some of wool’s natural properties. Let’s have a closer look at some of them.

Wool is odour resistant

We hope you already noticed it, but if you haven’t let us tell you, that you will not so easily stink in your merino wool clothes. This is due to several characteristics of wool. First of all, wool moves heat and moisture away from your skin meaning less sweat can get in contact with the naturally existing bacteria on your skin. In addition, wool does not absorb nor release odours leaving your garments to smell less. If your wool garments don’t smell you can wear them multiple times before having to wash them.

Wool is stain resistant

Another cool characteristic of wool is that it is naturally stain resistant due to its hydrophobic properties. This means when you spill something like coffee or tomato sauce on your wool garment, the stain is not soaked in by wool but just sits on top of it. This makes it very easy to wipe off with a wet cloth. If you do get a little bit of a stain, tapping it with a wet cloth can often do the trick. Being easily able to avoid stains on your wool garment means you do not need to throw it into the wash that often.

Freshen up in air not water

Over the last few decades, we have become quite used to thinking that cleaning a garment from odours and stains means washing it in water. However, when it comes to wool, cleaning it with water is not always the best choice. The best cleaning method for wool is actually hanging in fresh air. Fresh air is the best way to remove odours from wool garments.

These three factors of odour and stain resistance in addition to cleaning wool in the fresh air lead to wool garments needing less washing. If you can get more wears out of your wool garments you will be able to save water, energy, washing liquids as well as money and your precious time.

Cleaning methods for wool

Another area to look into when trying to reduce our own environmental impact are the cleaning methods used. We already mentioned the advantage of air cleaning earlier on but wool also has its benefits when it comes to our home appliances.

Lower washing temperatures

Looking at the care label of your Core merino wool garments will show you that the recommended washing temperature is either cold or 30°C. Wash cycles on low temperatures use less energy, which is better for our climate.

Drying temperatures

The care label will also recommend that you do not tumble dry your Core merino garment but rather line or flat dry it. Tumble dryers use a very high amount of energy. Being able to save this will further reduce your own environmental impact.

Wool cycle

One more thing your care label will say is that the Core merino garment should be washed on a wool cycle, a feature most of today’s washing machines have. A wool cycle will run on lower temperatures as mentioned above but will also use less water and have a much shorter set time compared to other cycles. Less water and less time, meaning less energy used, will decrease your impact even further.

Durability

The last factor to look at when it comes to ways of reducing our environmental impact with wool is how long the garment will last. On average the lifespan of a wool t-shirt is 6 years, compared to 3.8 years of a cotton t-shirt. This is due to wool being a very durable fibre. It can be bent many times before it may break.

You may ask why durability is important when we wish to reduce our environmental impact? The longer garments last, the longer we can use them and do not need to replace them with a new garment. This saves additional resources and energy needed to produce the new garment. So while our business is to sell wool garments, we do hope you love, use and wear your Core merino garment for a very long time.

We hope this gives you some inspiration about what you can do for our planet by including more wool garments in your wardrobe. While there are many big environmental challenges we as a society need to solve, choosing clothes made of natural, long-lasting fibres like wool also helps our planet. As Vivienne Westwood once said: Choose well, choose wool.

Understanding Environmental Benchmarking Tools

When it comes to better understanding the environmental impacts of our clothes, it is a little bit of a jungle out there. So-called Environmental Benchmarking Tools are trying to assist us in making better environmental choices when we shop our clothes. Examples out there are the Higg Index of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition or the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) of the European Union.

What is great about Environmental Benchmarking Tools?

Environmental Benchmarking Tools have developed methods to be able to compare different environmental impacts between different fibres like cotton, polyester or wool as well as various manufacturing processes. These methods use complicated calculations based on Life Cycle Assessment data which include chemicals, water and energy used along with other relevant environmental factors. The outcome is a simplified colour coded graph judging if a fibre or a specific garment is good or bad for the environment.

The idea behind these Environmental Benchmarking Tools is great as it helps consumers understand the impacts their clothing choices have while also assisting retail companies and their designers to improve their textile supply chains.

Caution recommended

However, there is also some caution and a little bit of more background knowledge needed when using these Environmental Benchmarking Tools especially when it comes to wool fibre.

Momentarily, the majority of the Environmental Benchmarking Tools do not take the impacts of the full supply chain into account. Often data is only used starting on farm up to the wool fabric manufacturing stage. Impacts that are not included for example are the use phase as well as the disposal phase. The reason for leaving these stages out is often that there is not enough data or knowledge about these stages.

Wool use and disposal phase should count

When it comes to assessing the environmental impacts of wool however, the impacts during the use and disposal phase are very low compared to many of the other fibres. Wool garments, for example, are washed less often, are washed at lower temperatures, used longer and often are handed down to other family members. At the end of a wool garment’s life, it is very often recycled or can biodegrade.

If these special attributes of wool are not taken into account when assessing the environmental impacts, then the results of the benchmarking tools are inaccurate. Wool, compared to other fibres, has a relatively high carbon footprint on farm. However, this becomes relative if a wool garment then lasts longer compared to a synthetic or cotton garment.

As we mentioned before, there is a lot of work and research going on in the space of measuring environmental impacts as it is vital for our planet for us to better understand how we can reduce our product footprint. As this space further develops and matures we will see more and more accurate results. In the meantime we just want you to be aware that not everything is straightforward and accurate when it comes to understanding the true environmental impacts of our garments and the fibres they are made of.

How to allocate environmental impacts between sheep products?

Allocation Methods explained

In our earlier blog post, we wrote a brief introduction to the importance of wool Life Cycle Assessment. In this edition, we will look in more detail at one important aspect of LCA, the so-called allocation methods.

In LCA all environmental impacts are accounted for. In the case of wool, LCA also accounts for the impacts of sheep such as their water consumption, land use, CO2 or methane emissions released through their digestive system, etc. As sheep are multi-purpose animals they produce not only wool but also meat, milk, lanolin and other by-products. Therefore these emissions need to be distributed to the different products sheep produce. To put it in different words, it would not be fair if your wool t-shirt took on all the environmental impacts while the lamb chops you might order tonight for dinner get a free pass.

How to divide impacts?

This raises the question about how these impacts should best be allocated to the different sheep products. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) defines different allocation methods and also ranks them as to which methods to prefer when conducting LCA. The least preferred but often the easiest method, for example, is economic allocation. Using this method means that the environmental impacts are divided in relation to the price of the different sheep products. For wool, this method is also the least preferred, as sheepmeat and wool prices vary from week to week and in addition wool prices for fine wool versus coarse wool also have a huge variation. So which price should be used?

Biophysical allocation most suitable for sheep products

Because it is such an important topic, a team of internationally well known LCA researchers have studied which allocation is the best way to calculate the environmental impacts of sheep across their different products. The result is biophysical allocation. This allocation method looks at how much protein is required to produce one pound of wool vs. one pound of meat for example.

Better understanding environmental claims

Truth be told, this is quite a technical little detail and you may wonder how this has anything to do with you? Well, if you are interested in living a sustainable lifestyle you rely on information provided to you about the environmental impact of a product. Every day claims are being made about how a certain product is more sustainable over another and the next day you may hear the exact opposite claim being made. This is due to the fact that scientific research on environmental impacts is a relatively new field and there are constantly new facts being discovered. Allocation methods are one of these research fields. As you learned in this blog post, there are different ways of measuring environmental impacts which lead to different results. Knowing this makes you a more savvy individual who can question environmental claims and help you make true sustainable choices.

If you are interested in reading more about allocation methods have a look at these links here.

If you have any questions or comments, let us know in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you. In our next blog post, we will talk about environmental benchmarking tools.

What is the environmental impact of wool?

Understanding Life Cycle Assessment for wool

Part of our motivation of being active outdoors is that we get to enjoy our beautiful environment. Because of our love for mother nature, we are also very much concerned with protecting it. This often starts with questioning and changing our own behaviour like saving water or energy. When it comes to our clothes, however, it becomes harder to understand what clothes and fibres are especially environmentally friendly. In other words, how do we know if clothes made out of wool or cotton or synthetics are better for the environment?

How does wool rate in environmental bench-marking tools?

To solve this question, there are different environmental fibre bench-marking tools available. These rating tools look at certain parameters to calculate the environmental impact of the fibre. A look at these tools, however, leaves us often surprised when it comes to the rating of wool. The environmental bench-marking tool by the organisation Made-By, for example, places wool in the worst category. Now, to everyone who knows and loves wool, this will seem counter intuitive as wool is a natural, renewable and sustainable fibre. To better understand what is going on, we want to bring some light into this mystery. Over the next couple of months, we will look deeper into the environmental rating of wool and publish what we find in our ‘Core Explorer’ blog posts. Let’s get started right now!

Life Cycle Assessment is the basis for measuring the environmental impact

To better understand the situation, we need to understand the technique of Life Cycle Assessment in short LCA. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) officially defines LCA as a technique used to assess the environmental impacts of products, processes or services. These impacts are being assessed along all stages of the supply chain.
For wool this means an LCA would look at the environmental impacts of the beginning of the wool processing supply chain such as sheep farms, washing (also called scouring), combing, spinning and knitting of wool. Furthermore, it would look how the fibre then gets turned into a garment, gets transported by sea, air, rail or truck and then is being sold at retail. In addition, it would also look at the use phase of how we wash our products and how long we wear them. Finally, the LCA would also consider the disposal phase, meaning if we throw our garment into the bin, donate it to charity or give it for recycling. Overall this is called the life cycle from cradle to grave.

LCA is complex and difficult to measure

So far the theory, but as always in life, things are not always so simple in reality. Measuring all impacts along the entire wool supply chain is complex and difficult. Sheep production systems vary from region to region not to mention from country to country. For example, wool growers will have different sheep breeds or have different feed available for their sheep. Some sheep rear on extensive paddocks all year round while other sheep only rear on grasslands during summer and are kept in sheep sheds during cold winter months. Manufacturing plants also vary widely depending on the location and age of the production plant. How we as owners of the garment wear, wash and dispose of our wool garments also varies widely around the world. Each of these factors has a different environmental impact and is often challenging to measure correctly.

Outdated data gives wool a negative rating

This is exactly where the problem lies. Because it is so difficult to measure the actual real-life environmental impacts of wool, researchers have often relied on assumptions or old data. As you may have experienced in your own life, if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out and that is exactly what happened to wool. Wool’s environmental rating is so negative because the data used in the LCAs is outdated, false and incomplete.

In other words, badly researched Life Cycle Assessments is what got wool a negative rating. The good news, on the other hand, is that well-researched Life Cycle Assessments is what will get wool a true and better rating.

Over the course of several blog posts, we will dive into the specifics of Wool LCAs to help us understand the true environmental impact of our wool garments. We hope you will join us on our journey.