There is an article in the new Yarn magazine called ‘A Yarn Less Travelled’ that I keep finding myself thinking about. It explores the true cost of yarn when carbon emissions are taken into account, comparing the cost of buying direct from a local producer to mail ordering wool that is grown in Australia, processed in Italy, sold in Canada and sent to a customer in Australia.
Obviously the latter example had a pretty high carbon cost. And when you think about all that shipping around it seems a bit silly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve bought yarn which had just as much freight involved in its creation. More than once, too.
Yet I’m relieved to say I do prefer to buy locally, just out of a philosophy of supporting local business. I love Bendy yarn. And Patons and Cleckheaton. I’ve bought the products of small producers like Wendy Dennis and The Knittery. Sometimes the price of locally produced yarns has put me off, but I’m more likely to splash out and buy something expensive and beautiful if the yarn is produed locally.
If I buy something from overseas, it’s usually something I can’t get here that I’m not confident of finding a good substitute for – like cotton with a unique construction, or a yarn dyed in a special way. I’ll even alter a pattern for a 10ply to use an 8 or 12 if I can’t find a suitable 10ply locally. But most of the time I can find a substitute, and I enjoy dyeing enough to try replicating special dye methods myself. (Though now I’m wondering what the carbon cost of the dyes are.)
The article has a guide to lessoning carbon costs when buying yarn and I’ve been considering whether to take on the suggestions. Things like:
* Knitting from stash – An obvious one which I’m doing more often since KFYS.
* Learn more about local yarn, especially if it’s been processed overseas – I’ll definitely pay more attention, but just how freely available is this information? I’m not going to ring manufacturers to hassle them for info.
* Swap, recycle or purchase secondhand – I do this already a little, but because I still want to support local producers I won’t take it on as a strict rule.
* Buy overseas yarn from the local store rather than mail order, as stores tend to have stock shipped by sea, which has less environmental impact – a good idea except… do they? Again, I’m not going to hassle store owners to tell me if they shipped or air freighted the yarn in.
* When travelling overseas, buy yarn made by local fibre artisans and producers – a great idea. I’ve bought yarn while travelling that’s gone through the crazy freight process before and belatedly wondered why I bothered. Sometimes made of Aussie merino, too! Something made locally to the place I’m travelling in is a much better souvenir than something I could get anywhere. Definitely taking this one on.
The article left me wanting more information, but information on how environmentally friendly (or not) different fibres are in ways other than just carbon emissions. I’d love to see this issue tackled some time. I’ve seen comparisons of fibres based on whether they’re vegan or cruelty free, but not one covering purely the impact of the animal or plant on the land and the processing (scouring? water use? dye toxicity? waste management?). I know cotton, for example, strips the land of nutrients and uses a lot of water – so perhaps it’s better to buy it from overseas where the climate is more suitable than buy it locally to reduce carbon costs.
So. Anyway. Food for thought. And a reinforcement of some ideas I had already. I’m going to:
Stick to buying local
Try out some more local small producers
Note which yarns involve processing overseas
Try to replicate dye effects of os yarns
Bug Damo in Ravelry about ACS producing a good 10ply in great colours
Continue to buy from Aussie yarn stores over os ones
Seek out and buy from small local producers when travelling
Avoid swaps unless they’re local and involve more than just posting yarn to someone
I’m also amused by the way my stash manifesto compliments this. (Bar a few items, like buying specified yarns for fantasy projects). For example: buying enough yarn. Having to mail order one more ball of a yarn because I didn’t buy enough to make anything is definitely not good for carbon emission costs!