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Wool scoured to the highest environmental standards


Enco global testing services and consultancy is aiming to set a standard the international textile industry can follow. Sharing the same site as Haworth Scouring, the largest wool scourer in the northern hemisphere, Enco is open to any company in need of help to improve its process efficiency and environmental sustainability. Dr Mike Madden invites Twist inside.

‘Sustainability is a co-operative effort between all parts of the processing chain’

Prince Charles with Dr Mike Madden on a visit to the Enco laboratory as part of his role as patron of the Campaign for Wool.

Global testing services and consultancy, Enco, offers a comprehensive range of services throughout the raw wool supply chain, from the most basic physical analysis to complex chemical investigations. Whilst there are other analytical laboratories acting on behalf of textile companies in the UK and worldwide, Enco combines wool textile consultancy experience with a lab dedicated to the environmental analysis of wool. We try to look after as many parts of the industry as we can, our roots being in the International Wool Secretariat and Confederation of British Wool Textiles. Although we are part of a bigger textile group, that is in turn part of an even larger European co-operative, Enco is free to work with any company that wants our help.

A number of research projects are carried out at any one time. The team is currently investigating alternative end uses for the solid waste produced by wool scouring. There is a threat posed to the traditional methods of disposing of sludge and dust produced by scouring, along with their effluent treatment plants. We are looking into better ways of utilising these useful by-products.

Some of these scouring by-products may be of more specific value to agriculture than the basic fertilisers they are currently being used for in the UK and Europe. It is important to develop these end uses, allowing scouring to utilise otherwise effective effluent treatment and realise a higher environmental value.

The easiest way for companies to develop their environmental profile is to improve those processes that also help to improve their bottom line. It is surprising that sometimes even small changes can result in big savings or open up the possibility of making an enhanced product. We concentrate on what seems most cost-effective for companies, which often can mean a step change in their environmental impact.

Enco specialises in full process audits to make sure businesses are operating efficiently in terms of chemical use, whichin turn reduces the environmental impact and adds significant value to the bottom line. Enco is currently offering a free two day process audit for any new network members.

Sustainability is a co-operative effort between all parts of the processing chain, from suppliers and customers to individual departments within any single processing company. In the past we have contributed on wool Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) and are currently available to advise on the new LCA work for the Woolmark/IWTO project. LCA is not an easy topic to address, especially for a fibre like wool which can be used in so many differing end products. As far as we are concerned the LCA for wool, especially crossbred wool, should start after the sheep has been shorn. Up until that point the fleece is grown to protect the animal and shearing it is simply good animal husbandry. The sheep is probably one of the most valuable animals on the planet - maintaining the countryside, providing wool, lanolin and food. The sheep after all is the original free range animal.

The Enco wheel tests yarn samples to determine the amount of The Enco laboratory. mothproofing agent present.
The Enco laboratory.

We are very pleased to have been selected as Australian Wool Innovation’s analytical supplier of choice for mothproofing testing in Europe, in connection with our work on insect resist and repellent agents. It is important to protect wool products from insect attack and damage, but achieving this whilst being kind to the environment is difficult. Traditional pesticides such as permethrin are very effective and when used correctly cause little environmental impact. Still it would be nice to find a natural product with a better environmental profile. There are some interesting products out there but we haven’t come across anything with the same longevity as chemicals such as permethrin, which is crucial when you are trying to protect items such as carpets or insulation. We will continue to look for alternatives.

Enco has been working with the UK Environment Agency to develop a set of Best Practise rules for the use of mothproofers and the mothproofing of wool. These rules will go forward to the new EU BAT Reference document for textile processing.

We can advise companies how best to mothproof their products, helping them use chemicals safely, within the discharge limits set by various environmental bodies. At the end of the day it is not just about satisfying environmental regulations, it is also about carrying out the process efficiently, satisfying customers and reducing wastage. With respect to residual pesticide in raw wool, the industry is in a completely different ballpark compared to ten years ago. Back then pesticide levels were much higher and it was not uncommon even to find organchlorine type pesticides in some wools. Over the intervening period the incidence of pesticide content in raw wool has fallen off dramatically, both in the types found and concentration present.

Nowadays wool is virtually free of organochlorines, the most damaging pesticides, whilst other types of pesticides are also declining rapidly. However, farmers must protect their animals so pesticides will still be used on occasion.

The limits being applied to discharges from scouring mills and other wet processors of wool are constantly being driven downward. What would have been regarded as a low level of pesticide in raw wool a few years ago is problematic today because of the tightening environmental legislation. We ensure that Haworth Scouring keeps ahead of all such legislation.

Unfortunately processing standards are not improving across the board. There are some areas lagging behind by quite some distance. Europe tends to lead the way in environmental regulation and whilst some may see this as stifling business and making it difficult for European manufacturers to compete, in the long run other areas of the world will have to catch up because their environment cannot stand the kind of damage being inflicted.

One of the major areas where Enco can help companies is to review their processes and procedures, showing them how to build towards environmental excellence. This is not ‘greenwash,’ this is about adding real value to the business. Haworth Scouring is amongst a very small number of innovative wool processing companies, actively trying to improve the sustainability of their process. Continual improvement is the only way that the company sees its future. Haworth Scouring has a very sophisticated effluent treatment facility, which has seen significant investment and engineering initiatives over several years. The latest major addition is being commissioned now.

Cleaning the effluent means that wash water can be recycled and re-used, which minimises water use, reduces discharge and cuts energy consumption. The plant has a comprehensive solids and grease capture process, enabling the company to scour in a stable liquor whilst setting an industry standard for low volumes of water consumption by recycling in excess of 95% of rinse water. Haworth sends nothing directly from the process to landfill. The company has invested in anticipation of the introduction of the Environment Agency’s Water Framework Directive, which could be a major concern for other processors.

Momentum is building towards more environmentally responsible processing and manufacturing. Enco is looking at the certification of processors according to a set of achievable parameters enabling individual companies to measure their achievements against each other and specific targets. We are always ready to help any company that comes to us with a problem, working to improve their environmental profiles and process efficiency.

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