How Merino Wool is Changing Sustainability in Clothing
Unlike man-made fibers and clothing, Merino wool is an excellent renewable resource. Merino wool is changing the way we look at sustainability in clothing and revolutionizing the way many of us consider where our clothing is made, how, and what happens to it when we no longer need it.
1. Wool is biodegradable. Wool can be broken down into natural raw materials, reintegrating back into the nutrient cycle. All wool needs to biodegrade is oxygen, warm temperatures, and humidity to begin the cycle that will eventually turn it into carbon dioxide, water, and minerals. Since the source of Merino wool comes directly from sheep, Merino wool is made up of a protein called keratin, the very same protein you can find in your hair and nails. When wool is just starting to break down, fungi first consume the ends. Once bacteria have initiated digestion, it begins to secrete enzymes. Because the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of wool is slim, meaning wool has a high percentage of nitrogen—this nitrogen is the reason Merino wool biodegrades so well.
2. Products made from synthetic fibers can take 30 to upwards of 40 years to degrade, leaving landfills piled with increasing waste. Merino wool in ideal conditions, such as soil with microbes, good moisture, the right temperature, and pH-value can degrade within 5 to 10 months. That’s a fraction of the time in which man-made fibers begin to break down, making wool an obvious choice for those concerned with what’s going on with the environment and our planet.
3. Sheep are part of the natural carbon cycle of the planet. Sheep consume organic carbon stored in plants and convert it to wool. 50% of wool weight is pure organic carbon.
4. Comparing wool to man-made fibers, wool is naturally odor resistant while synthetic fabrics such as polyester are not. Synthetic fabric retains the chemicals and acids associated with body odor while Merino wool is naturally odor repellent.
5. Since wool can repel odors that translates into being able to wear Merino wool materials longer as well as washing clothing less. As wool can be washed less frequently and in lower temperatures than man-made wool, it contributes to lessening water pollution. When you wash fabricated textiles in the wash, you could be releasing over 700,000 microscopic plastic fibers per wash into the environment. Fewer washings equals less plastics, less possible phosphates, less chance for eutrophication. Phosphates in the water system contribute to eutrophication which is an excess of nutrients that causes excessive plant growth and lack of oxygen in the water which can suffocate and kill important aquatic life.
6. When considering the above statistics and observations of what plastic fibers and phosphates can do to our water supply as well as aquatic life, there’s how much water you use per washing to consider as well. Because of Merino wool’s odor blocking properties and fewer washings—you’d be using far less water per wash. An average load of laundry can use up to 40 gallons of water per single wash. That’s a considerable amount of water wasted. Though much of the U.S. is not facing a water issue currently, continuous waste of fresh water may have us facing serious consequences in years to come. Only 1% of water on Earth is fresh water.
7. In comparison between manufactured fabrics and natural Merino wool, wool is one of the most recycled fibers. Wool accounts for up to 5% weight total of consumer donated clothing for recycling and re-use. That is substantially higher than the supply of virgin wool fiber at about 1.3%.
8. Cotton, polyester, nylon, polyester, and rayon for example generally last roughly 2-3 years. Merino wool and wool garments can last upwards from 2 to 10 years making it highly suitable for re-use and recycling.
9. Merino wool is renewable and assists the carbon cycle. Organic carbon makes up 50% of the weight of wool, higher than cotton’s 40% or viscose which is only 24%. This carbon starts from the grasses or herbs sheep consume. The sheep consume food in large pasture systems. Large pastures equal large amounts of plants, plants convert carbon from our atmosphere via photosynthesis which turn into organic compounds that the sheep consume. The sheep use these compounds to grow their wool, which farmers then collect. The entire cycle then goes on to repeat making wool a completely natural, renewable process unlike synthetic fabrics which are extracted from fossil fuels. Carbon stored in Merino wool means less carbon in our atmosphere. It’s estimated that the global wool clip represents around 1.05 million tons of clean wool which equals to 1.9 million tons of CO2-e (525,000 T) of pure, atmosphere obtained carbon.
10. Animal welfare in farming communities may be an important factor too. Keeping an animal happy, safe and generally well often means better, higher quality products. Sheep that are well cared for tend to produce wool that is higher in lanolin. Lanolin is the grease produced by sheep to maintain and protect its fleece, which in turn is made into wool. Merino wool purchased from ethically sourced companies and farmers can ensure that not only are they environmentally friendly, but they are also sheared from a sheep that is being kept safeguarded, content, and treated well.
The use of Merino wool for textiles has so many benefits. Sustainable, renewable fabric resources. Ethically sourced sheep and farms create more plants which in turn both feeds the sheep and allows sheep and pastures absorb carbon from our atmosphere, lessening its impact. Not to mention the personal benefits of using Merino wool: moisture wicking, damp-resistant, effective both summer to keep you cooler and winter to keep you warmer, in addition to being one of the softest that doesn’t irritate skin.
Merino wool’s properties are rapidly influencing while challenging the textile industry’s standards of sustainability in clothing for the better.