Wool production has a disastrous impact on the environment. The farming and processing of wool pollute air, soil, and water, producing greenhouse gases and wastes.
Wool is commonly used in the textile and apparel industry to make warm technical clothing, such as shirts, socks, gloves, coats, pullovers, jackets, sweaters, leggings, and slippers.
Wool is obtained from animals that are enslaved, exploited, subjected to painful treatments, and exposed to dangerous substances with long-term disastrous effects on ecosystems and human health.
Billions of animals are brutally slaughtered each year for the clothing industry. Wool is obtained from animals such as sheep, goats, muskox, rabbits, and camelids.
To understand why wool production is cruel, read up my article on why you should stop buying and wearing wool.
Contrary to popular belief, wool isn't an ethical or sustainable material. More than 95% of all wool comes from mass production globally. And mass production isn't ethical.
Wool isn't environmentally friendly either. Sheep farming requires an enormous amount of resources. Let's consider the entire life-cycle of wool, from raw material production to distribution, consumption, recycling, and disposal.
Wool textile production emits greenhouse gases
Sheep farming is responsible for massive greenhouse gas emissions. Sheep digestion produces methane as a by-product. And of all the greenhouse gases, methane is one of the most potent because of its ability to efficiently absorb heat in Earth's atmosphere.
Over 20 years, one kilogram of methane warms the planet as much as 80 times more than one kilogram of carbon dioxide, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
One sheep can produce about 30 liters of methane each day.
Fabric production is also responsible for carbon emissions: weaving, knitting, and fabric treatments.
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index attributes wool fabric a Global Warming Score of 40.0, which is more than 4 times worse than 8.8 for cotton fabric.
Wool farming requires a lot of land
Wool requires more land than many other types of fibers. The land has to be cleared and trees cut down to make room for grazing sheep. Sheep farming leads to soil salinity and the destruction of biodiversity.
Around 1.155 million kilograms of wool were produced in 2018 by more than 1.177 billion sheep around the world, according to the International Wool Textile Organisation.
Sheep numbers rose by 2 million from 2017, continuing the rising trend since 2009.
Chemicals used in wool production are toxic
Wool fiber is one of the five most environmentally damaging fiber worldwide, as reported by the Global Fashion Agenda.
Wool production is responsible for high human and eco-toxicity. Because wool processing happens with chemicals.
Pesticides and insecticides are also used on sheep to keep them free of parasites. Hazardous chemicals pollute air, soil, and water, endangering human health and ecosystems.
Wool farming consumes lots of water
Wool farming requires enormous amounts of water.
To manufacture a metric ton of wool, 500,000 liters of water are needed to raise the sheep and clean the wool fiber.
Wastewater is highly polluting and contains residual pesticides and insecticides as well as cleaning agents.
Most dyes used for wool fabrics are toxic and cause water pollution with dangerous chemicals.
Wool is far from being an environmentally friendly material. It has a catastrophic impact on the planet.
Wool has the fifth more harmful environmental impact among all materials used for textiles, as rated by the Global Fashion Agenda. It's far worse than manufactured fibers such as polyester, acrylic, viscose rayon, elastane, and nylon.
Many environmentally friendly fabrics can replace wool effectively.
Many ethical fashion brands choose to avoid textile fibers obtained from animals completely. They don't support the cruelty of the wool industry and use alternatives.
Instead of buying and wearing wool, use more eco-friendly materials such as:
There are so many alternatives to wool today. With rising concerns for ethics, human health, and nature, wool isn't necessary.
Read up our article on the top 10 sustainable fabrics to learn more about other fabric choices.
Have you given up on wool yet?
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.