Environment is the winner

Garments made from wool are washed the least frequently and consume less energy and water.
Camera IconGarments made from wool are washed the least frequently and consume less energy and water. Credit: Ian Wallace

Woollen garments have the least environmental impact in their wearable stage, a new study has found.

An Australian Wool Innovation-funded scientific study published in the journal Sustainability found garments made from non-wool fibres, including synthetics, cotton and cellulosic, were cleaned by consumers in different ways.

The study discovered that laundering frequency was the most influential factor for differences in the environmental impacts per wear, between garment types.

It found woollen garments had the lowest water and energy use per wear, as well as related greenhouse gas emissions, mainly due to the reduced laundering frequency.

AWI’s fibre advocacy and eco credentials program manager Angus Ireland.
Camera IconAWI’s fibre advocacy and eco credentials program manager Angus Ireland. Credit: Supplied

AWI program manager for fibre advocacy and eco credentials Angus Ireland said the study demonstrated the eco-credentials of wool in a world where there is increasing concern about society's trend towards ‘fast fashion’ and the effect on the environment of synthetic textiles.

“Laundering frequency is the most important indicator of energy consumption during a garment’s use phase,” he said.

“Consumers who are aware that their wool clothes require less washing — because of wool’s natural resistance to odour, stains and wrinkles — have the greatest influence on the sustainability of their garments.”

Mr Ireland said the fact that wool clothes need less frequent washing not only reduces energy and water consumption, it also preserved the as-new look of the garment, enabling consumers to continue wearing it for longer.

The journal article is based on the results of a quantitative wardrobe survey, undertaken by AC Nielsen, of more than 200 consumers from each of China, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US.

The research, funded by AWI, provided quantified and robust data about the environmental impacts of cleaning different types of garments, which would help ensure accurate and positive environmental assessments for apparel products containing wool.

“By funding studies such as this one, we are now in a ‘knowledge-powerful’ position regarding the impact on the environment of wool compared to other fibres,” Mr Ireland said.

“While the study shows that wool’s eco-credentials shine during the ‘use phase’ of a garment due to its need for infrequent laundering, there is potential for wool’s impact to be reduced even further because not everybody knows about wool’s easy care attributes.”

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