Winners of the International Woolmark Prize, Emily Bode and Richard Malone with models

LONDON — Merino wool is more eco-friendly than previously thought, according to a new study by The Woolmark Company that has found the fabric does not contribute to microplastics in the ocean.

“Our research into wool and microplastics began back in 2016 when we investigated the current state of our knowledge concerning microplastic pollution. Wool has long been heralded the original eco-fiber, but concerns had been raised about the machine-washable finish applied to the wool and whether it added to the problem,” said Stuart McCullough, managing director of The Woolmark Company.

The study looked to clarify the issue and showed that both untreated and machine washable wool can biodegrade in marine environments with the latter biodegrading at a faster rate.

Compared to other fabrics, wool is one of the fastest to biodegrade. Researchers tested this by washing it with other fabrics repeatedly to simulate the use and wear of clothing and then scanned the fabric with an electron microscope.

Machine washable wool came out on top as one of the fastest biodegrading fabrics, at a rate of 67.3 percent while untreated wool biodegraded at 20.3 percent. Nylon biodegraded at 0.8 percent followed by polypropylene and polyester.

Single polyester fleece was the biggest culprit, producing more than 1,900 microfibers per wash.

“During these ever-changing troubled times, it’s important to consider how well-intentioned consumers can make purchasing decisions that help look after the health of the environment. Choosing natural fibers such as merino wool is an important place to start,” McCullough said.

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