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SHEAR CRUELTY: Pulling the wool back from our eyes

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According to one sustainability scoring system, the climate cost of sheep’s wool is, on average, more than five times higher than conventional cotton and three times higher than acrylic.

CHARLY LYNN PHILLIPS: While public awareness of the meat industry’s negative environmental impacts has increased considerably, the ecological implications of animal products in fashion are less well-known. Wool in particular is often viewed as a sustainable fabric, and tends to be marketed as “sustainable”, “natural”, and “biodegradable.” However, commercial wool production comes with its own collection of environmental baggage.

In collaboration with Collective Fashion Justice’s CIRCUMFAUNA Initiative, the Center for Biological Diversity has authored a report to shed light on the environmental impacts of wool. They integrated evidence from a variety of sources to calculate relevant statistics, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, government agency reports, industry reports, and scientific papers. The report has a particular focus on Australia and the USA, but you may find it useful as a starting point for researching wool production in your own geographical location.

Wool production encompasses sheep rearing, wool processing, and the waste produced from both processing and discarded wool clothing. As the sheep meat industry is intertwined with the wool industry, environmental implications of this slaughter industry are also relevant. Pure-bred merino sheep are used only for wool, but merino cross-breeds are used for both wool and meat. According to one sustainability scoring system (the Higg Material Sustainability Index), the climate cost of sheep’s wool is, on average, more than five times higher than conventional cotton and three times higher than acrylic…

The report ends on a positive note, describing market opportunities for innovative materials free from both animal and plastic-based fibers (e.g., plant-based or lab-grown fibers). While such alternatives are likely to pose less harm to animals and ecosystems compared to wool or synthetics (which rely on fossil fuels and contribute to microplastic pollution), it is important to keep in mind that the research & development involved in preparing novel materials for market still requires large amounts of energy and entails large amounts of waste. Considering the current overabundance of clothing, reducing the purchase of new garments is important for both animal and environmental health.

Overall, this report provides a comprehensive overview of a seldom discussed topic: the sustainability concerns associated with wool. Activists may also find it useful for intersectional campaigns, as it provides information on the impacts of wool production on sheep welfare, linkages between the wool and sheep meat industries, and the dangerous, exploitative labour conditions of the commercial wool industry. SOURCE…

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