Wool or Microplastics? The Consumer’s Choice

Wool, a textile fiber dating back to antiquity, remains an excellent material refined by age-old processes. However, its prevalence dwindled with the advent of synthetic textiles a few decades back. Now, according to Textile Exchange, wool merely comprises 1% of global fiber production, totaling 113 million tons per year. Synthetic fibers, in contrast, dominate with 64%, with polyester accounting for 54%.
The rise of synthetic textiles stems from their affordability, rapid production, and easy maintenance. Wool, being a natural material, demands care in handling and costs more than synthetics. Nonetheless, wool’s functionality, characterized by flame resistance and hypoallergenic properties, far surpasses synthetic materials. Wool production also positively impacts biodiversity, soil health, and groundwater.

Currently, the use of synthetic fibers is under scrutiny by EU regulatory bodies due to concerns about microplastics. The European Investment Bank is one of the European authorities supporting the emergence of new regulations, including the European Green Deal and Circular Economy. Their recent analysis reveals that synthetic materials are the primary source of microplastics, contributing at 35%. Other sources include tires (28%) and city dust (24%). Of the 14 million tons of microplastics released into the oceans annually, 13 thousand tons originate from synthetic textile fibers from European surface waters. This has urged European lawmakers, in conjunction with UN member states, to launch several regulatory proposals to limit microplastics. The issue of microplastics was also recently a central topic in Paris in preparation for an international treaty on plastic pollution under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Sustainability in the textile sector is a heated topic. EU research indicates that textile use has the fourth highest negative environmental and climate impact, and the third highest water and land use impact. Recognizing this, the European Commission (EC) in 2020 pinpointed the textile industry as one of the most important value chains for supporting circularity and sustainability. In March 2022, EC launched a comprehensive action plan called the “EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles”. This plan outlines a broader strategy, which has been partially implemented and is expected to be completed in the coming years. It addresses issues such as transparency around ecological claims and the prevention of microplastics release from textiles.

The eco-design regulation, currently progressing through European legislative process, already includes some concrete rules for a more sustainable textile industry, although detailed rules are yet to be specified by the EC’s implementing legal acts. The European Parliament emphasizes the need for consumers to have more information for sustainable choices and advocates banning the destruction of unsold and returned textile goods. They also call for clear anti-greenwashing rules and stress the need for distinct targets for preventing, collecting, reusing, and recycling textile waste in the upcoming revision of the EC waste directive. Additionally, they urge the EC to promptly act to curb the release of microplastics and microfibers.
But will manufacturers have enough time to adapt during the proposed two-year period from the regulation’s validation to its enforcement? Luxury brands, known for exclusivity and often scarce supply, typically dispose of their unsold items to avoid discount sales. With the new regulations, they must rethink their production and sales strategies. One option is transitioning part of production from ready-to-wear to custom-made, further heightening exclusivity.

New strategies and legislation could bring the European textile and fashion industry closer to the ambitious European climate goals. But will these efforts be enough to make a significant global impact on climate change? European climate targets are just a small piece of the global puzzle. For a substantial shift, other countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, should adopt similar rules. The Eunomia report states that the EU imports 13.9 million tons of textiles, exports only 3.8 tons, and has a domestic production of 19.9 million tons.

Ultimately, the most important change begins with consumers, whose demands drive manufacturers’ supply. Therefore, not only EU policies, but also manufacturers themselves, should invest in extensive consumer education about product quality and their environmental and health impact. A good example is The Woolmark Company.

LIBERAL LARK has embraced the proposed new standards, using high-quality, innovatively treated wool as the primary material for its tailor-made, timeless coats and trench coats. They combine luxury natural materials, precise tailoring, originality, and exclusivity with NFTs for authenticity verification, ready to withstand long-term wear, weather whims, new Web3 technologies, and legislative challenges alike.

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