All Blogs

Fabric Faceoff: Recycled Wool vs. Organic Cotton

March 1, 2019
No items found.

We’re almost at the finals of Green Story’s #FabricFaceoff . The first semi between bamboo and tencel was touch and go (even for the audience!). Here’s the second, it’s organic cotton vs. recycled wool.

These fabrics are up against each other on Green Story’s 5 criteria, a mix of eco-friendly qualities, manufacturer and customer needs, and specific fabric properties.

Both organic cotton and recycled wool are natural, biodegradable fabrics and like for like replacements of their counterparts, cotton and wool. Which of them will make it to the finals against Tencel, the industry favourite or the winter coziness of recycled wool? 

The rules of the competition and more details on the fabrics are at the bottom of the post. Without further ado, here’s how we scored them!

1. CO2 Emissions:

Recycled wool completely bypasses the biggest emission stage: sheep. There are considerable emissions even with organic cotton in comparison to recycled wool due to the farming involved. The same goes for the next stage of ginning which is loss prone and has emissions associated with it. However, recycled wool skips the scouring process which cleans the wool and is heavily emission-prone.

Our score: Organic cotton – 4 | Recycled wool – 5
Winner: Recycled wool


2. Water Consumption:

Essentially. recycled wool production is breaking down clothes to fiber and respinning them back into yarn. That means all water for sheep and wool scouring can be saved. To make it even better, recycled wool (most often) doesn’t need to be dyed —just well sorted for colour creation. That means not only water is saved, but also many harmful chemicals. Compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton needs around 85% less water because of natural crop treatments. These treatments allow for soil to retain significantly more water and so crops need less irrigation. But cotton crops overall still require quite some water to grow.

Our score: Organic cotton – 3 | Recycled wool – 5
Winner: Recycled wool


3. Cost:

While organic cotton is more expensive than wool, it’s the industry’s favourite because of cost as well as availability. While recycled wool is on par with new wool, it’s still considerably more expensive than organic cotton.

Our score: Organic cotton – 5 | Recycled wool – 3
Winner: Organic cotton


4. Availability:

Organic cotton is an easy winner as it’s grown in 35 countries and is comparatively easily available. While recycled wool on the other hand is just available in a handful of recycling hubs.

Our score: Organic cotton – 5 | Recycled wool – 3
Winner: Organic cotton


5. Other:

Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or generically-modified seeds. It’s also versatile and used in almost any situation. However, it also has demands on land use.

Wool has the natural ability to breathe and gets credit for taking (wool) waste out of landfill. Recycled wool is a bit less durable than new wool but can be mixed with other fibers to strengthen it. However, it falls short on the versatility front when compared to organic cotton.

Our score: Organic cotton– 4 | Recycled wool – 4
Winner: Tie


Semi final Winner: Organic cotton

Another really close one. Recycled wool is by far the greener fabric and has a lot less water impacts. However, when it comes to versatility, availability, and cost, it has some ways to go to catch up to organic cotton.

Final score: Organic cotton – 21 | Recycled wool – 20


Reintroducing our competitors: Organic Cotton and Recycled Wool

Fabric Faceoff Semifinal 2: Organic Cotton and Recycled Wool

Organic cotton: The eco-friendly alternative to the most widely used natural fiber crop. Organic cotton is best known for its lack of toxic chemicals in cultivation and production. It’s stead availability have made it a goto fabric in the ecofashion space and is pretty much the first mainstream ecofabric.

Recycled Wool: The sustainable second life of wool. This fabric by-passes the most environmentally-harming stages of wool. Without the eco-impacts from sheep, and chemicals and water needed for dyeing, recycled wool is a great candidate for our green list —and our winter list. Not to mention recycled wool keeps our wool sweaters out of landfills and avoids new fiber creation.


The rules of the competition

We broke it down into 5 categories, a mix of environmental issues, consumer and manufacturer needs and unique fabric qualities. Each category is scored on a 5 point scale with 5 being best.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: Every fabric gives off CO2 from its production, but the best green materials strive to bring this to a minimum —some even to be CO2 negative (due to carbon sequestration).
  2. Water consumption: Fabrics can use up to 3,000 liters per 1 kg of material (!), so the less water needed, the higher green materials will score.
  3. Cost: Being green and buying green is the main goal. But we must also be realistic. You can’t spend all your budget on the material, and your customers will not spend their life savings on a t-shirt. So finding the right balance between being sustainable and affordable will make sure green materials are here to stay.
  4. Availability: Green materials are wonderful, but they must also be accessible. The possibility of local production, easy access to facilities offering these materials (and no long waiting lists), and brands offering these materials needs to be addressed.
  5. Other: Each material is unique and has different sustainable qualities. This category allows each material to bring its top additional assets to the table, to make for a fairer comparison.