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Beyond the Bale : June 2015
FARM OFF 27 MENTAL FOOTPRINT PRODUCTION Wool production begins on farms where sheep graze pastures or consume imported feed. Other inputs may include farm machinery, fertilisers, veterinary chemicals, housing and bedding. On-farm environmental impacts include use of land, water and energy, emissions of GHGs and management of carbon stored in vegetation and soils. WOOL’S LONGER LIFE REDUCES ITS FOOTPRINT PROCESSING Wool processing uses chemicals, energy, water and uses fuels for transport. Until now the apportionment of weightings to meat and wool has been based on the economic value of each product but it can easily be seen that this method is not robust. To explain, Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from sheep are predominantly driven by their digestive system and manure production, varying by perhaps 25% between breeds. By contrast, the value of ultrafine Merino wool and broad wool from breeds such as Cheviot varies by more than 1000%. So, even though the Merino and Cheviot sheep have similar GHG emissions, allocating economic burden by wool’s value would result in the Merinos being assessed as having a much heavier (more harmful) environmental footprint. The solution lies, the researchers say, in using a method that allocates environmental impact on the basis of the protein requirements for production. Both meat and wool are protein-based products, so this method generates results that are causally related to production. It also produced much more stable GHG estimates across the different farming systems than other allocation methods. END-OF-LIFE Disposal of wool products such as apparel or carpets may be to land-fill or as input for products such as fire retardants. “We should see this study influence the international standards applied to benchmarking, such as the guidelines developed by the UN’s Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance program," Dr Swan noted. “Over time this will result in more consistent reporting of the positive environmental performance of wool, and provide assurance to the retailers, brands and marketers that have an interest in wool that they have the most accurate data set, and thus the most accurate understanding of the true environmental footprint of wool.” Long-lived products have a ‘lighter’ carbon footprint because they are replaced less often. However wool LCA studies to date have assumed that at the end of a garment’s life it is immediately disposed to landfill, ignoring the level of reuse and recycling of wool garments. A new study of recycling and reuse of wool by Professor Stephen Russell of the University of Leeds, a member of the Wool LCA Technical Advisory Group, has revealed findings suggesting a smaller LCA footprint than used in LCA studies undertaken to date. The study identified: • A high donation rate of wool garments of about 5% in UK and USA surveys towards a second life, which is far higher than wool’s share of the virgin fibre supply of about 1.5%. • More recycling options for wool. Unlike many textiles, wool clothing has long been compatible with both ‘open loop’ and ‘closed loop’ recycling processes. • A long second (and potentially third) life: For example the active life of automotive sound insulation is about 15 years, while a mattress insulator pad is about 7 years. IMPROVING CONSISTENCY AND ACCURACY OF WOOL LCA The Wool LCA Technical Advisory Group has recently contributed a chapter on wool LCA for inclusion in the Handbook of Life Cycle Assessment of textiles and clothing. This invitation from the editors, Woodhead Publishing, was an acknowledgement of the status of the Group and their achievements for wool LCA. The Handbook will communicate recent technical developments in wool LCA to a wider audience and will generate awareness of the unique features of the life cycle of wool and the rationale for including them in LCA. It will result in more wool LCA practitioners using consistent allocation methods and consider the use and end-oflife phases in wool LCA studies. It will also mitigate the risk of a proliferation of poor LCA studies that could potentially damage the reputation of wool.