How good is recycled wool from a sustainability perspective and how animal-friendly is wool clothing really? In this article, we clarify the concepts of recycled wool, organic wool, and whether wool is good or bad from an environmental, - and animal rights perspective.
What is wool?
Wool is a material that comes from various fur animals, for example, sheep, angora rabbits, alpacas, and goats. Wool is thus hair from the fur of these animals which is then treated and spun into yarn or thread which becomes clothes. The difference between new wool and recycled wool is that recycled wool is made from textile scraps (remaining fabric scraps from the production phase) and old wool garments, while new wool is exactly what it sounds like - new wool directly from the animals. Worth mentioning is that wool is not just a fine fiber we humans take from animals for our comfort; animals have to be trimmed for their health, so we're reusing something natural that's already available. The big problems arise when this transitions to an industrial scale where the welfare of the animals comes last.
Advantages of recycled wool
Recycled wool has many advantages – it is degradable, naturally self-cleaning, durable, and has heat-regulating properties. The production of recycled wool also requires less water, energy, and chemicals, which is positive from an environmental perspective. The same applies to wool's self-cleaning properties, which means that wool garments need to be washed less often.
What is organic wool?
Organic wool is mainly aimed at better animal care with special requirements for organic animal husbandry. It concerns, among other things, the animals' right to stay outdoors and that they receive organic food. Organic wool is also produced without chemicals. There is another option of "better" wool (in addition to recycled and organic) which is certified RWS wool. RWS stands for Responsible Wool Standard and focuses on animal welfare and agricultural practices that protect the soil and biodiversity. However, RWS wool is not completely organic.
What is bad about wool?
From an animal rights perspective, wool is self-evidently a poor choice of material. To clarify, this is about raising animals for their fur, rather than using the wool that is already available. Because no matter how you look at it, conventional wool, organic wool, and recycled wool come from animals. The advantages of choosing organic or recycled wool are that demands are placed on the animals' living environment (organic wool) and that no new wool, i.e. no breeding of new animals, is required to produce clothes (recycled wool).
Although recycled wool requires less water, energy, and chemicals than, for example, cotton, wool contains impurities that must be washed away before it can be used. Recycled wool is also often mixed with other materials, which can make it difficult to ensure that the finished fabric or garment contains 100% recycled wool. Therefore, it can be good to check the material label an extra time to see what the garment really contains.
As mentioned above, there are both pros and cons to wool, but from a sustainability perspective and an animal rights perspective, it's way better to choose organic or recycled wool than conventional wool.