Group: Esha Patel, Judy Wu
Prof. Christina Cogdell
Raw Materials Used in the Production of Ugg Boots
As people of today’s ever consuming society, we tend to overlook the aspects of production and waste. For society, the cost of the product is displayed in dollar signs while, in fact, it costs far more. A product’s life span doesn’t begin on the shelf and end in a trash can. A product must be conceived from raw materials taken from the earth and its resources; not only to physically make the product, but to fully support the life cycle, from construction to decomposition.
Although the fashion industry is continually attempting to produce “affordable” products that are both stylish as well as eco-friendly, many companies overlook the environmental aspect of the process to achieve a high-income and popular item. Despite the amount of pride in its “premium” product, Ugg Australia uses a costly amount of raw materials to create the “finished piece of sheepskin worthy of only the UGG Australia name” (Craftsmanship). Putting such a high price and high standard on the product increases the amount of interest in the product as well as the amount of energy and materials spent. The process of creating a pair of Ugg boots consumes a wide range and large amount of raw materials, most of which are used to prepare the sheep skin that is used to construct majority of the boot. The amount of resources that the singular product consumes is more than just the life of the sheep and some chemicals for the sole. One pair of Ugg Australia Boots can consume over twenty different materials in the process of production.
The life of an Ugg Australia boot begins with the life of sheep in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average flock size of the Australian merino sheep is 2,200 (The Wool Industry) and a low-intake sheep can eat 100g per day, where as a high-intake sheep could eat 800g per day (Holst). If the average consumption of grasses is 350g per day per sheep, the average flock of 2200 would consume 770,000g of grasses a day. To support this large diet, a farmer must either own a vast pasture or buy the needed amount of food to keep the sheep at optimum size and health. If the farmer does decide to outsource the food, whether it be grasses or pellets, the cost of harvesting and shipping is more than just the money. It includes a large amount of fuels and raw materials for the production. Besides the need of grassy pastures and food sources, the sheep also need a supply of water, and ample amount of space for waste.
When the sheep are at a prime age and have high production of the merino wool, the sheep are sent to a slaughter house. At the slaughter house, the sheep are butchered for meat and the hides are preserved for the manufacturing of the boots as well as other sheepskin products. The sheep hides are first placed in a large vat, called a paddle, of salt water that can hold anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 liters (VanPelt). It is there that they are gently cleaned, clearing the pelts of loose debris and dirt. After the sheepskin is taken from the salt water, it is placed in another vat, this time filled with fresh water, which removes finer debris as well as the salt from the first rinse. Since flesh and fat may still be attached, the process of fleshing takes place so that none is left on the hide. This part of the process is “essential for allowing more rapid and complete penetration of chemicals in the later stages of processing, particularly during the pickling and tanning stages” (Ibid). A machine carefully does this task so that precision and efficiency meets time standards. This standard is met by using energy sourced from fossil fuels that provide electricity for the factories in which these many processes take place. Scouring, the next step after fleshing, makes sure that the wool of the sheep (still intact with the hide) is clear of dirt and grease. Scouring also takes place in other methods of processing wool and is the integration of surfactants at a high temperature to clean the wool. The anionic surfactants commonly used are “linear alkyl benzene sulfonates (LAS), alcohol sulfonates (AS), alcohol ethereal sulfonates (AES) and alkaline soaps of the fatty acids,” all of which are biodegradable (Hot Water). After all this takes place, the pickling stage of the tanning may begin.
When the hide completes its time for scouring, it moves into the tanning stage. The first step, pickling, takes an average of 16 hours, where the hide is placed in a solution of salts and acids. The acid can cause the hide to swell so the salt is added to prevent the swelling. After the 16 hours spent pickling, the sheepskin moves on to a new 16 hour process where it is exposed to chromium salts and sodium bicarbonate. The chromium salts, considered the tanning agent, are used to prevent rotting while the sodium bicarbonate fixes the salts to the sheepskin and raises the overall pH (VanPelt). When the total 32 hours of the tanning process have been completed, the wool is able to be dyed to the preferred color. It was explained in VanPelts article that “pelt reserve agents” must be added to keep the skin from being dyed along with the wool, but such agents proved hard to find sufficient information on. Fatliquor, emulsified oil, and dyes are combined in this process to achieve an even dye as well as flexibility for the sheepskin after the dying has been completed. Forced air is used to dry the hides and it usually takes anywhere from 4- 24 hours to complete (Ibid). Despite the many cleaning processes before tanning and dying, the sheepskin must be dry-cleaned with perchloroehtylene after dyed to ensure that all grease has been removed. To condition the sheepskin suede after all the processes have taken place, the suede leather is rubbed down with a “natural” concoction of “coconut and jojoba oils” (Sheepskin Cleaner). Although more ingredients take place in the conditioner, the contents weren’t able to be identified.
The construction of the sole of the shoe can go two different ways. The older shoe soles were mainly made of rubber. Rubber can be made from latex harvested from the hevea brasiliensis tree or can be made from petroleum. As hevea brasilinesis trees and petroleum became over harvested—the tree for other rubber products and the petroleum for a wide range of products—the manufacturers developed EVA soles to compete with the depleting resources. EVA, ethylene vinyl acetate, is a light-weight compound that has become very popular in the shoe industry. Widely used for athletic shoes, EVA is prized for its air-like qualities. These qualities can be attributed to the addition of expanding agents. The expanding agents are responsible for creating the desirable lightweight qualities, but can also create air pockets in the sheets, so that when the soles are cut from patterns, holes sometimes appear, rendering the sole undesirable. A variety of websites claim that this product is cheap and eco-friendly. As we find in many products, most cheap plastic products come at a large price when dealing with resources and bi-products. The consumers are most concerned with the durability qualities of the product, but it has been found that while lightweight, ethylene vinyl acetate is easily degraded by wear. To accommodate this weakness, EVA can be combined with rubber to increase the durability of the sole.
Although EVA has become more common, rubber is still being manufactured for soles, if not at least to be added to the EVA. As far as the research showed, the manufacturing of rubber from a hevea brasiliensis tree can include far more raw materials compared to the making of EVA. Materials such as water, dyes, acids, sulfur, silica/calcium carbonate, and antioxidants are all added to the mixture, not to mention the main ingredient: latex. To support the manufacturing, lots of resources must be put into the harvesting of rubber. Although many environmental groups are working to protect these trees from being harvested, they are not considering the alternative to latex from the hevea brasiliensis tree, which is petroleum. The harvesting of petroleum for the creation of rubber or for any reason is harmful to the environment and the organisms within the environment. Not to mention the massive amounts of energy and resources that are being used to pump and distribute the oils. As this “natural” resource is constantly being harvested, petroleum may seem like a fix to the problem concerning shoe soles now, but when these resources deplete, we will have to think of new ways to sole our shoes, especially since our newest and brightest technology—EVA—isn’t considered durable enough without the rubber.
No matter which type of sole is used, after they produce the two main components of the boot, they must assemble the final product. After the sheepskin is cut down with patterns—usually by machine— machines stitch together sheepskin pieces, making sure that the suede is on the outside while the wool is protected on the inside. From what little found on the binding, the stitching and binding is usually made from cotton. Like any crop, water and oil are two very important components in the harvest of cotton. Water is necessary for the growth and development of the cotton, while the oil is used for all the machinery necessary for tending to the cotton. After being harvested, the cotton goes through extensive processes to be wound into yarns. These yarns not only are used to stitch the boots together, but are also woven into binding for the top of the boot. On certain occasions, the binding may be made from synthetic materials.
Before the shoe sole may be attached, it must go through surface prep. Surface prep of the sole requires chlorination so that the rubbery sole may react more easily with the adhesive and attach to the rest of the shoe. A polyurethane adhesive is used to attach the boot upper to the sole, and the wide brim of the sole that wraps around is stitched to the upper to reinforce the sole’s connection to the rest of the shoe.
An aspect easily overlooked, even in this research, is the embellishments that commonly adorn on the Ugg boot as well as the packaging that is applied to distribute and sell the product. Embellishments as simply as tags were forgotten, but, like the binding, is generally woven from cotton or a cotton blend. It must remain durable so it can withstand the wearers’ adventures, so a likely combination would be cotton and polyester. Polyester provides strength to the product, commonly not found in cotton, while still retaining popular cotton qualities such as comfort. Packaging, while important, is manufactured completely independently from the actual manufacturing of the boot. It has a completely different life cycle, only intersecting with the Ugg boot product for a short period of each cycle.
When being disposed of, the Ugg doesn’t have many options. If it is in good shape, it could be donated to thrift stores or sold to consignment. All Uggs, eventually, end up being sent to landfills. In landfills, the Ugg boot waits to waste away like the rest of the garbage. Unfortunately, studies have not shown how long the Ugg boot lives in the landfills, but with all the chemical and other treatments to the leather, along with the rubber or synthetic sole, the boot does not have an easy time biodegrading.
While researching the Ugg Australia boot, many aspects were overlooked as less significant when considering the raw materials that go into the production of the boot. While many routes could be taken, extreme measures weren’t made. An example of an extreme measure would be following the raw materials that go into producing and running the machinery required for the production. It was mentioned that petroleum fuels the factories and the machineries within, but it was chosen to not go into detail over the machines that drilled the petroleum and what sort of materials were needed to construct said machines. In a way, that would be going in circles. Many of the same raw materials are used over and over again during the life cycle of the Ugg boot, and would also be present in the manufacturing of the tools and machines. Despite the similarity in the raw materials put into the product, depending on the specific style, many of the materials could change for the Ugg boot. Different styles offering different aspects include different materials and different techniques for those materials. In the end, the main research that had taken place mainly focused on the materials, energy, and waste of the production of sheepskin.
Sheepskin, being the main material of the average Ugg boot, used the greatest amount of resources to manufacture. It demanded the most focus during the research process and proved to be quite interesting. To those unaware of what the process is like, the Ugg boot is an overpriced luxury of comfort and style. Like most other products, humans overlook the amount of resources, energy, and waste that is used and created for one singular product. Just the amount of effort expressed in preparing the sheepskin for authentic suede Ugg boots is astounding, yet when the sole and other aspects are added to the product, the amount of resources steadily rises. One of the hardest ideas to fully comprehend is the scale at which these are being manufactured. While there is some gain through producing on a large scale, the full amount of raw materials that are used, and possibly wasted, is an unfathomable amount. When a consumer buys a product, he is not only buying that garment or gadget, he is buying all the resources and energy that went into the production of the product. When he disposes of the leftover product in the end of its cycle, he is disposing of materials that, in some cases, we can never get back. If this research shows anything, it demonstrates that the life cycle of a product is far more than what it appears. The life cycle of a product encompasses all that come in contact with the item as well as those items that are sacrificed to produce the overall manufactured item.
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Research Assignment: embodied energy
March 13, 2014
Embodied Energy in Uggs
Essentially unisex sheepskin boots, fleeced on the inside, UGGs were originally worn by Australian surfers in the 1960s and, as American surfers visiting discovered the comfort and warmth they offered, followed them back to the California coast. Some small retailers caught on the trend and started selling imported boots as early as the 1970s. The popularity of the boots was quick and well-noticed and after some legal naming conflicts where the word UGG was already used to describe a generic sheepskin boot in Australia and New Zealand, Deckers Outdoor Corporation bought the trademark in America, and eventually over 100 other countries as well, although neither Australia not New Zealand are on the list. The popularity of UGG boots rose rapidly in the late 1990s and the mid 2000s where teenage girls decided UGGS were “the shoe” and a variety of UGGs were released in pink, blue, black, with sequins, with knit outsides, with buttons, with zippers, and even with heels. Today UGGs style boots can be found in all colors of the rainbow and with various outer coverings and an array of styles. With the recent rise in popularity, Deckers UGG boots have found themselves facing scores of knock-off brands such as Bearpaw or Euram UGG, although they still control about 90% of UGG boot distribution. On top of that, with a recent backlash against sheepskin boots, there are companies selling faux sheepskin UGG style boots, made of polyester and cotton blends. For this report however, the boot whose production we will follow is the traditional sheepskin UGG boot made in Australia, although distributed from the United States.
To trace the main material used to make original high quality UGG boots, we go to the Australian Merino sheep. These come in four varieties, Peppin, Saxon, South Australian, and Spanish, and are generally raised in different parts of Australia. Rearing sheep takes within itself a great amount of energy, both human and otherwise. First, land has to be cleared for sheep raising. Sheep farms vary from very open grassy fields to total confinement, where sheep are always kept indoors to raise the number of sheep possible per plot of land or to protect the sheep from local predators. Almost all farms will have a barn for the sheep to sleep in and most require feeding and watering equipment. These are often made with mixtures of both plastic and metal elements. The plastics, used for feeding equipment and part of the shed, are generally petroleum based and are also manufactured using fossil fuels, often in China. The metals, often aluminum, would be mined from various sites, refined, shaped, and transported to Australia to make fences, roofs, and troughs and more. This transportation would likely be done through various modes of transportations from truck, to train, to ship, to potentially plane, all of which are powered by fossil fuels. Building the barns would require both human energy and expertise help supplied by construction vehicles, also run on fossil fuels. Once the raising habitat is complete, there is the energy input required to keep the sheep alive, which includes nutritional input. Sheep are usually fed hay and various grains through V-shaped troughs and water from flatter troughs. When possible, all hay, grains and water are obtained locally to minimize costs, and consequently fossil fuel energy potentially used in transportation. Sheep are also often fed extra minerals for added health security, although which minerals are effective vary by climate and season. To check sheep health and for parasite, such as worms, breeders often do stool samples checks, which are done regularly with testing kits, which require a variety of chemicals, likely made synthetically and transported from a distant lab, as well as some lab equipment, with its own manufacturing and transportation energy costs. De-worming is usually done through feeding infected sheep supplements, although some herbal remedies are being tested.
Finally, as the sheep grow up and mature, they can be sent for either further breeding, sheared for fleece, or to killing factories, where depending on the facilities, they are killed humanely with some anesthesia or with other quick, effective methods, or if the facility is not quite so well-maintained, they would be scalded half-alive or electrocuted to death. Both have their respective energy counts and less humane methods tend to have lower energy counts, though a humane death may be argued to be worth a higher energy count.
After, the hides are separated from the meats and each sent their separate ways. The now sheep-less sheepskins begin a lengthy tanning process. They are first set for preservation by soaking for about 10 days in a large metal drum shaped vessel called a paddle. These vessels can hold between 3,000 to 15,000 liters of salt water, depending on the size of the vat. The large container is usually heated and contains rotary paddles which would skin at most very slowly, allowing the salt water to thoroughly soak the skins. The paddles can be run on hydraulic power, but are also on motors, which would likely use gas or electricity, which in this day, tend to be from fossil fuels. The salt water would also be mixed on site, leaving the salts to be either transported from wherever they are artificially made or mined.
The hides are also then soaked and thoroughly rinsed for 16 hours in cold water, which is cooled through a refrigeration process. A fleshing machine is then used to remove excess fat and other tissue leftover from the skinning process on the underside of the skins. This is so chemicals which will be later used in the process can pass through the skin more easily. Most of these machines can be imported worldwide, though there are many suppliers selling cheaply from China. Unless the process is happening in China, as with many off-brand UGG boots, this would add transportation costs and energy total energy use in making the boots.
The skins are then “scoured” with high temperature surfactants (around 38 °C or 100°F), of which linear alkyl benzene sulfonates (LAS) is a biodegradable, but toxic variety. It is created from propylene and benzyne, which are both petroleum products. The scouring process usually lasts from 30-45 minutes and the goals are to remove all leftover dirt or grease from the skin.
The sheepskin is then “pickled” using an acid and salt mixture for around 16 hours. This is to bring down the acidity of the skins to in between 2.8-3.0 to allow the tanning agent in the next step to properly permeate the collagen of the skins. The tanning agents in this context are usually chromium salts, which bond with the collagen in the skins, stabilizing the molecules and preventing most of the skin from rotting or decomposing. Chromium is generally mined in India, North Africa, and some parts of Brazil, and after mining and processing, is shipped to Australia. To bind the chromium to the collagen, the acidity and temperature of the vat is raised. This process in itself is heated by either gas or electricity.
The tanning part of the process is over and is quickly followed by the dying of the skins. The pH of the skins is raised to about 4.5-6 and the solution is heated to between 60-65°C (about 140-150°F). The dye, along with a “fatliquor” or treated oil to keep the skin soft is added to the mix. The dyes are often aniline dyes and made from petroleum. The mixture is allowed to soak for about 3-4 hours and then is set to dry, a process which entails the skin be stretched out over a frame and blow dried at temperatures ranging from 50-80°C (about 125-175°F) from anywhere between 4 to 24 hours. This is one of the most energy intensive parts of the process, as far as energy usage goes. Over the next 4-24 hours after that, the skins are dry-cleaned using a high-boiling petroleum faction. Then the hides are once again put back in the paddle to ensure removal of any and all traces of fat or grease. In the paddle, the pelts are dyed again, at a cooler temperature. This reduces the chance the dyes will stain other materials after the process is complete. The pelts are then tanned once more with synthetic tanning materials or “syntanned” for added firmness. Some of these synthetic materials include resin tanning agents and are manufactured in various factories globally. They are then dried as the last part of the tanning process.
The skins are then conditioned to “20% moisture content” although further searching did not very many details on this process. The pelts are then staked and stretched to restore nappy texture to the suede side of the skin. This process seems to involve stretching the skins or beating them with a dull headed stick or other item.
The wool is then combed for any remaining burrs, leaves, seeds or other unwanted natural stragglers. After combing, the wool is straightened by an iron to remove crimps in the fibers. A clipping machine is then used to trim the wool length to an even pile. All these machines can be assumed to operate on electric or gas power.
At long last, after the skin ready for processing, the pelts are cut using a clicking press for even and uniform pattern pieces.
The soles of UGG boots are usually made out of EVA rubber, which is made from vinyl acetate and ethylene gas. It is known to be easily moldable and flexible, but nonetheless strong. The soles of UGG boots are shaped in molds and then added to the factory line with the cut-outs of the main body of the boots.
The sheepskin pieces are fitted together, using industrial sewing machines and cotton thread, which is grown and processed mainly in the tropics of Southeastern North America, Northern Africa, India, and some Pacific Islands. This part is done using human energy. The finished soles are then attached to the rest of the boot using polyurethane adhesives as a bonding agent.
The material used on the final patch on heel of the boot could not be identifies though, it seems to be a waterproof textile and as such, is likely synthetic. The embroidery could be doine with either cotton thread, as follows the craft of the boot seams, or by using a synthetic thread for sustainability.
The boots are then packaged in cardboard boxes with some tissue paper inside to soak up moisture, as well as to ensure the boots keep their shape despite being on their sides for months up to years. This cardboard boxes and tissue papers are usually made of recycled paper pulp, which reduces resources, but still requires energy to churn out.
The UGG boots are then shipped from the plant in Australia to the Deckers Outdoors Corporation warehouse in southern California, either by freight or plane, or even both. The shoes are then stored then as outlets and stores request them. They are from there, shipped out as necessary, both national and international. Shipping details as to whether they were transported by plane, train, ship, or truck were unavailable, although the company website does state they use FedEx Shipping Company to ship their packages. A solid guess would be that the company uses all four as needed. Depending on where the boots ship to, shipping charges and the energy burned in excess movement can be cancelled out by having a warehouse in Australia or China, where the factory would be.
After the UGGs are in stores, they are bought by consumers largely through human power. As with almost all consumer products, they go through their allotted lifespan when no longer comfortable or wearable, they are usually trashed with common garbage.
The boots are then taken to landfills, adding yet one last transportation cost to their lifespan. At eh landfill they are either sorted with textile waste and disposed of as such, or kept with common waste and are left to slowly degrade.
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Authentic Ugg Australia Feel - Wastes and Emissions
As I walk though the halls of my high school, walking from class to class, I see girls showing off their new Ugg Australia boots. I admit, I own a pair myself and they are quite comfortable and soft. But I honestly had no idea what they were made out of when I bought them; like many other girls (and guys), I just thought they were cute, comfortable shoes!
“Do you know why they’re called Uggs? Because it stands for ‘ugly’!”
“But they’re so comfortable! And I think they’re cute; you’re just jealous.”
I remember overhearing two girls having this very conversation back in high school. Ugg boots were really popular then and they still are now. They are comfortable and cute, though everyone has their own opinions about its aesthetic appearance. Ugg boots first became popular when Pamela Anderson donned a pair while on the set of Baywatch. She, like a lot of us, thought that Ugg boots were simply made from shaved wool, which sadly is not true. Ugg boots are not made from just wool. They do not call Uggs “sheepskin boots” for no reason. Most people do not know about the materials that are put in to making Ugg boots, nor do they know about the waste and emissions as a result from the production of Ugg boots.
Real authentic Ugg Australia boots are made from Australian Merino Sheepskin (Ugg Australia, 2013). So where does the sheepskin come from? Most people believe that sheep are raised and slaughtered specifically for their sheepskin for the production of Ugg boots, but that’s only half the truth. Sheep are never raised specifically for their skins, but for their meat. The skin used for Ugg boots are simply a byproduct of the meat industry. Sheep farmers sell their sheepskin byproducts to manufacturers like Ugg Australia so that they can use it, instead of tossing it out, for high quality sheepskin boots. However, there have been videos surfacing the net showing mistreatment of sheep and sheep being tortured.
Before any processing can be done, the sheepskin has to be properly prepared at a tannery. The sheepskins have to be soaked in salt water for about 10 days. “[The] tanneries use large vessels called paddles, that hold anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 liters of salt water, slowly swish the skins around inside. (VanPelt, 2012)” Even before the production of Ugg boots begin, tanneries are already using thousands and thousands of liters of water just to soak the sheepskins as preparation. After preparation is done, the actual production process begins. The first step in processing is “soaking” the sheepskin overnight, which takes about 16 hours to complete, in fresh cold water to remove all impurities. After soaking is “fleshing” which removes excess fat and muscle tissue from the sheepskins, and allows better penetration of chemicals in the later stages of processing. Then comes “scouring,” which is a 30-45 minute process of surfactants at 38 degrees Celsius, to remove impurities and lanolin from the wool. After scouring is “pickling” which soaks the sheepskins in a solution of acid and salt. Pickling helps prevent potential swelling of the sheepskins due to acid, and lowers the sheepskins’ pH to about 2.9; this takes about 16 hours to complete. The next step is “tanning,” which also takes about 16 hours to complete. This step is crucial in that it helps the sheepskin structure to stabilize and prevents putrefaction and rot. Just like the scouring step, this step also requires that the sheepskin be heated to about 38 degrees Celsius.
After all of that preparation and processing, the sheepskin is finally ready to undergo dyeing. Wool dyeing takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete, and is only done after the sheepskin completes the tanning process (VanPelt, 2013). Once the dyeing process is complete, the sheepskin needs to be dried. During the drying process, which can take anywhere from 4 to 24 hours to complete, the sheepskin is force dried with strong air dryers at high temperatures; then, the remaining impurities, if any, are removed from the sheepskin. As finishing touches, the sheepskin is conditioned to have that signature Ugg Australia look and feel; and the wool is combed, trimmed and ironed to soft perfection (Winton, 1949). Now, the sheepskin is finally ready for the manufacturing process. Pieces are cut, sewn and glued together, then sold at retail stores.
The production of Ugg boots is a tediously long and complicated process that involves a lot of different materials, requires a lot of energy, and ultimately produces a lot of waste and emissions. A lot of waste byproducts and emissions are created by the production and manufacturing processes of Ugg Australia boots. The major waste byproduct is water pollution. During almost every step of the production of Ugg boots that I mentioned earlier uses thousands and thousands of liters of water. The dyeing process of the sheepskin uses the most water, and produces the most waste water that is not recyclable or reusable; chemicals from the dye are permanently left in the water. During the dyeing process, “special ‘pelt reserve agents’ must be added to keep the wool dye from staining the pelt (VanPelt, 2012).” Emulsified oil is then added to the dye solution after the dyes have been stabilized on the wool. The emulsified oil is an important step in the dyeing process because it is what helps lubricate the sheepskin so that it is soft, flexible and has that “authentic Ugg Australia leather feel.” According to Turnkey Solutions Inc., emulsified oils are created in two ways: mechanically and chemically (2012). Mechanical emulsions simply refer to the vigorous mixing of the oil droplets in water; it is a physical process. Chemical emulsions are created when surfactants, soaps or detergents are used in the mixture; the use of surfactants, soaps and detergents interferes with the oil’s natural reaction when mixed with water, and instead is permanently stabilized. This step creates more waste water in that the water cannot be reused, since the emulsified oil is “permanently stabilized” with little to no chance of breakage. Ugg Australia also sells a “conditioner,” emulsified oil solution, to Ugg boot owners that want to keep their expensive boots in good, soft condition. Even after production of the Ugg boot is done, the product keeps contributing to waste and emissions throughout the product’s life cycle.
In 2010, the global textile market was worth 1.175 trillion dollars, suggesting huge amounts of investments into textile dyeing processes (Savageau, 2012). Dyeing processes are very water intensive, and uses thousands of different kinds of chemicals, which we cannot safely remove from the water used. Also, a lot of pollution is created as a negative externality. Textile dyeing is one of the biggest players in water pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. The paddles that the sheepskin dyeing is taking place in requires lots of energy to run, which in turn creates a lot of carbon dioxide emissions and water pollution as a consequence. Also, before and after the actual dyeing of the sheepskins, preparation and finishing steps must be taken, which also uses thousands and thousands of liters of water as well, tripling the amount of carbon dioxide and water pollution created (Savageau, 2013). The dyes themselves are very toxic and many are also carcinogenic. Ugg Australia uses acid dyes for their sheepskin and wool to lower the pH level of the sheepskin so that the dyes will stabilize in the sheepskin and become permanent. However, about 60 to 70 percent of the acidic dyes used in the textile industry contain carcinogenic compounds (Savageau, 2013). One carcinogenic dye, anthraquinone, is found in almost all dye classes, regardless of whether it is acidic or not. These toxic, hazardous dyes are found in Ugg Australia boots, which can potentially be absorbed through our skin and into our bodies. Also, when dyes are used, lots of water is used to mix the dyes, which are then turned into just waste water when the dyeing process is over. The waste water is also toxic since it contains carcinogenic compounds which cannot be removed, and if the waste water is not discarded carefully, then the water can easily end back up in our faucets and drains, therefore entering our homes. Ugg boots are not harming only the environment with the waste and emissions created during production, but also the consumers in that in extreme cases, the carcinogenic compounds from the dyes can potentially be rubbed off and absorbed through the skin of the consumer.
There are many alternatives that could reduce the amount of waste water created and the amount of water used, which ultimately would reduce the costs of production as well. As an alternative, the sheepskin can undergo air dyeing or digital printing instead of pelt dyeing. Air dyeing does not require the use of water at all, which could reduce water usage by up to 75 gallons of water per one pound of textile. Dyes are transferred from paper to textiles by heat in just one step, which ultimately reduces energy use by 85 percent. Also, there are no harmful byproducts or chemicals. Digital printing reduces water usage by 90 percent and energy usage by 75 percent; and like air dyeing, digital printing also does not create any harmful byproducts or chemicals.
Ugg boots are not made from just sheepskin and wool, but also cotton. The stitching and binding of the Ugg boot requires cotton. Cotton is, according to Ann Savageau, a “textile villain (2013);” it uses ten percent of pesticides and 23 percent of herbicides worldwide, which include some of the world’s most hazardous pesticides. Volatile organic compound emissions from cotton pesticides are currently over 11 million pounds in California, making cotton one of the highest crop contributors to volatile organic compound emissions in the entire state. These pesticides are so toxic, that many Californian farm workers get sick and die from pesticides each year (Savageau 2013). The soles of Ugg Australia boots are made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and rubber. EVA is a light, expanded rubber that is both soft and flexible. But according to an experiment done at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, EVA produces acetic acid when it decomposes. Acetic acid is an organic compound; when concentrated, acetic acid is corrosive and attacks the skin. The rubber used in the sole of the boots is natural rubber extracted from the hevea brasiliensis tree. Over extracting of the hevea brasiliensis tree can easily cause deforestation which ultimately causes carbon dioxide emissions to rise; and carbon dioxide emissions are already at a historical high as of right now with about 400 parts per million (Savageau, 2012).
According to Wikipedia, surfing helped popularize Ugg boots in the United States, and other places outside of Australia and New Zealand. Authentic Ugg Australia boots are manufactured in Australia which then need to be transported to the United States; and according to one of Ann Savageau’s lectures, shipping long distances by air emits more than 40 times the carbon dioxide than just using a container ship. I could not find any information on how Ugg Australia boots are actually shipped from Australia, so I am just going to assume that they are shipped by air because it is a lot faster than by sea, and the demand for Ugg boots in California just keeps rising. In fact, Ugg boot sales have grown about 80% since it was first introduced to the states by surfers; though the demand is mainly in southern Orange County, with an increase in sales of 60% (Wikipedia, 2014).
Like all other textile products, Ugg boots are not kept forever, sometimes even thrown away much earlier than when the life cycle of the product ends. According to the US EPA, “12.7 million tons of textile waste is landfilled per year (Savageau, 2013).” In general, garment producers expect to waste about 15 percent of the textiles needed to produce a garment (Gwilt, page 84). This means more waste from the production of Ugg boots. Ugg boots have a very distinct shape, which means that it has a very distinct pattern pieces cut from the sheepskin. Since sheepskin come in all shapes and sizes, and Ugg boot shafts are not perfect rectangles, we can imagine how much of the sheepskin fiber is wasted during the production process.
From the production to the manufacturing to the transportation of Ugg Australia boots, a lot of unwanted waste and emissions are consequently produced. The major emissions of the production of Ugg boots is waste water and water pollution. The dyeing, soaking and rinsing processes of sheepskin require a lot of water, enough water to quench the thirst of India for awhile. Using alternative dyeing methods would greatly reduce the consumption of water and even carcinogenic compounds left in the dyed sheepskin. If the goal of Ugg Australia is to reduce waste and emissions, then they should start by using another dyeing method, then by using alternative methods for drying sheepskin too. The forced air drying method that they are currently using requires way too much energy consumption that ultimately emits a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to our already very high carbon dioxide levels. If the goal of Ugg Australia is to make the world a better place, while still being stylish and fashionable, they should start by reconsidering their current Ugg Australia boot manufacturing and production practices. By just changing a few things in their production process, they can instantly make a difference in the world because one small change is multiplied by thousands since Uggs are now being mass produced to satisfy the high demand in Southern California.
1. Gwilt, Alison, and Timo Rissanen. Shaping sustainable fashion: changing the way we make and use clothes. London: Earthscan, 2011. Print.
2. Kempe, Michael D., Gary J. Jorgensen, Kent M. Terwilliger, Tom J. McMahon, and Cheryl E. Kennedy. “Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate Potential Problems for Photovoltaic Packaging.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 2006: n. pag. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
3. Ugg Australia. "Craftsmanship & Materials." Ugg Australia. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://www.uggaustralia.com/world-of-ugg-craftsmanship.html>.
4. Savageau, Ann. "Textile Dyes." DES142B. UC Davis. Cruess Hall, Davis. 12 Nov. 2012. Class lecture.
5. Savageau, Ann. “Textiles and Dyes.” DES127A. UC Davis. Art Annex, Davis. 26 Nov. 2013. Class lecture.
6. Turnkey Solutions Inc. “What is Emulsified Oil and where does it come from?” Turnkey Solutions. Turnkey Solutions Inc., 2012. Web. 5 Mar. 2014. <http://www.turnkey-solutions-inc.com/wieo.html>
7. VanPelt, Don. "How Do They Make Ugg Boots?." Sheepskin Boots For You. N.p., 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. <http://www.sheepskinbootsforyou.com/howdotheymakeuggboots.htm>.
8. "Ugg boots." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugg_boots>.
9. Winton, E.R.. "Processing of Woolled Sheepskins." Journal of the Society of Dyers and Colourists 65.7 (1949): 333 - 335. Print.