Synthetic clothing is not readily recycled due to a lack of technology and commercial viability. While in the last century used clothing from Europe and the US was high-quality and good value, this is no longer the case. Now much of used clothing is unsaleable due to poor quality – often associated with the greater use of synthetics and polyester and natural fiber blends.
Wool, however, tells a different story. Wool has been recycled for more than 200 years. It remains a popular and valuable recyclable – of the total amount of clothing donated for recycling by consumers, nearly five per cent is wool. To put that in perspective, wool’s share of the virgin fiber market is 1.3 per cent.
The best case scenario for textile recycling is the closed loop route. For wool, this means a mechanical process through which garments are pulled back into the raw fiber state. Wool knitwear can retain its fiber length through this process and yield yarn that can be used to recreate a new garment that has all of the natural beauty and performance qualities of virgin wool.
While wool potentially offers fresh opportunities for innovation for outdoor garments, it has become a fiber that slowly but surely more players in the outdoor industry are looking into as one way of improving their environmental and materials footprint.