How does wool fair environmentally and socially as a material

The production of wool involves the use of pesticides, which cause particular impacts both as they are applied on the farm and in subsequent downstream processing. Traditionally sheep have been dipped to control parasite infection. The two pesticides most commonly used for dipping are organophosphates and pyrethoids. Exposure to the former is linked to severe nerve damage in humans (notably in the case of sheep dip in farmers). This has led to an increased use of the latter which has given rise to a significant growth in incidences of water pollution as pyrethoids are one thousand times more toxic to aquatic life than organophosphates.

Organic wool

The production of organic wool is extremely small-scale. It requires that at least 75% of the food consumed by the sheep is organically grown. In addition, the use of preventive medicine, pesticides and synthetic growth promoters are not allowed. Organic sheep rearing is almost solely associated with organic sheep meat production.

Wool sourcing

Major environmental impacts are associated with initial cleaning of raw wool (scouring). Effluents arising from wool scouring are significant in terms of their pollution potential to both water and land. Raw wool like all other natural fibres contains many impurities. It is scoured at hot temperatures in an aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and detergent to emulsify the grease. The process produces an effluent with high suspended solids content.

(Source: Kate Fletcher, 1999 www.demi.org.uk)