In a world of greenwashing and mislabeling, it’s difficult to find materials and products that are actually sustainable. It’s even more challenging when discussing animal-sourced materials like wool. Wool isn’t vegan for several reasons; it comes from sheep who are bred for the sole purpose of being shaved and supports the idea that animals can be treated like a commodity and not sentient beings. Many investigations into wool farms have also documented horrific animal cruelty and abuse.

Recycled wool, on the other hand, does not require virgin sheep hair and can be made from scraps. The material has been gaining popularity in fast fashion stores, but what else do we need to know about the product before giving it the green light? And even if it is better, does that excuse these companies’ other practices or the fact wool is still an animal product? 

What Is Recycled Wool? 

What’s great about wool is that it can easily be broken down and turned into new products. According to the International Wool Textile Organization, there are three main ways wool can be recycled. The first is through a closed-loop system that breaks down garments into their raw fiber state which can then be turned into new garments like knitwear. The second method is the open-loop system which turns the old wool into materials like insulation or mattress padding. Lastly, re-engineering old wool garments turns them into creative and innovative products. 

What You Should Know 

Recycled wool is significantly better for the environment than virgin wool. Recycling wool doesn’t require any harsh chemicals, has a low environmental impact, and does not require a lot of water. That’s more than can be said about recycled polyester

In terms of its carbon footprint, recycled wool’s CO2 emissions are 83 percent lower than that of virgin wool. That’s a significant drop. 

The wool scraps and garments are also sorted by color before being recycled, which makes dyeing them easier and more efficient. 

One big drawback of recycled wool is that it isn’t as soft as virgin wool. When the wool fiber gets torn apart and re-weaved, it becomes fuzzier and develops a harsh feeling. This is why some people don’t enjoy wearing recycled wool. 

Is It Better Than Virgin Wool? And Is It Vegan? 

Virgin wool has a much higher carbon footprint than recycled wool. It also requires sheep to be bred and shaved, which comes with its collection of ethical issues, especially on large-scale farms where the sheep are severely abused. It is very difficult (if not impossible) to rely on an animal for material without some form of exploitation being involved. 

In terms of it being vegan, it really depends on who you ask. Buying recycled wool is similar to buying a second-hand wool garment – technically, no animals have to be harmed in the process of creating that specific garment, and it’s better for the environment. However, some vegans might argue that any form of animal product, regardless of where it was purchased, isn’t vegan. So, it’s really up to the individual to decide how they feel about it and if it aligns with their values. 

Ethical Concerns 

Unfortunately, we can’t only judge a garment based on what it’s made from. Large brands have figured out what they need to do and say to get people to continue buying from them without making real, long-term changes to their business models. 

Fast fashion brands like Zara and Mango still use slave labor, produce high volumes of waste, and promote trend cycles. The introduction of recycled wool in their collections doesn’t make them better companies, unfortunately. We still recommend avoiding purchasing from them. 

In Conclusion 

Recycled wool is an interesting textile. It’s completely natural and the recycling process is quite eco-friendly. While we can’t decide whether recycled wool is vegan or not for you, we can say that it doesn’t require any new sheep hair to produce.

Brands have become comfortable using recycled products as a cover for environmentally destructive practices. If you decide to purchase recycled wool, please make sure the brand selling it has fair labor practices and is mindful of its water consumption. 

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