As the fashion industry grapples with its unsustainable practices, circularity has emerged as a buzzword that promises to transform how clothes are produced, consumed, and disposed of. At its core, circularity is about designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. In this context, wool has emerged as a promising circular fibre that embodies many of the principles of a circular economy (CE). This article will explore what circularity means, why it matters, and how wool can play a key role in a more circular fashion industry.
What is Circularity?
A circularity framework aims to do away with the take-make-waste linear manufacturing and consumption model that permeates many industries, including fashion. Instead, it aims to create closed-loop systems that minimise waste, maximise resource efficiency, and regenerate natural systems. The circular economy is often contrasted with the traditional linear economy, which relies on a constant input of new resources and generates waste and pollution as a byproduct. In a circular economy, waste is reduced, and commodities are used for as long as feasible through recycling, upcycling, and repurposing techniques.
Why does Circularity Matter?
CE matters for several reasons:
- It addresses the environmental impacts of the fashion industry, one of the world’s most polluting and resource-intensive industries. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion business generates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions yearly, uses a substantial amount of water, and produces a lot of waste and pollution.
- Circularity offers a way to create value and resilience in resource scarcity and volatility. The fashion industry can create more resilient and sustainable business models by reducing reliance on finite resources, such as fossil fuels, and embracing renewable and regenerative resources, like wool.
- CE aligns with consumer values and preferences, as more and more people demand more sustainable and ethical products and practices.
Wool as a Circular Fiber
Wool is a natural fibre that has been utilised for thousands of years to make clothes and textiles. It is derived from sheep and goats, alpacas, and llamas wool. Wool has a lot of characteristics that make it a promising circular fibre, in addition to being highly valued for its warmth, durability, and adaptability.
Renewable and Regenerative
Wool is a renewable and regenerative resource that can be produced without depleting finite resources or damaging natural systems. Sheep, the primary source of wool, are raised for their wool and meat in many parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Sheep farming can be done in a way that is regenerative and sustainable, such as through holistic management practices that promote soil health, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. By contrast, synthetic fibres, such as polyester, are made from non-renewable fossil fuels and contribute to the depletion of natural resources.
Durable and Biodegradable
Wool is also durable and biodegradable, meaning it can be used for a long time and safely returned to the earth. Unlike synthetic fibres, which can take hundreds of years to decompose and release harmful microplastics into the environment, wool can biodegrade in soil and water. This makes wool a good candidate for circular strategies such as recycling and composting. For example, wool can be shredded and re-spun into new yarn or felted into insulation or padding. It can also be composted and used as a natural fertiliser.
Wool can also play a key role in closed-loop systems that minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency. For example, wool garments can be designed for disassembly, with components such as buttons, zippers, and linings easily removed for reuse or recycling. Wool can also be combined with other fibres, such as cotton or recycled polyester, to make new textiles that perform better and are more sustainable. In addition, wool can be used in circular business models such as rental, resale, and repair, extending product life and reducing the need for new production.
Circularity is an important framework for creating a more sustainable and resilient fashion industry, and wool is a promising circular fibre that embodies many of its principles. Wool can be utilised in closed-loop systems that reduce waste and increase resource efficiency since it is renewable, regenerative, long-lasting, biodegradable, adaptable, and multifunctional. Although there are opportunities and obstacles to consider, wool’s potential advantages as a circular fibre are substantial, and the wool sector has the chance to play a large role in the shift to a more circular economy.