The Bigger-Picture Benefits Of Organic Cotton
You may be an organic cotton devotee, like us, choosing organic cotton in all cotton products you purchase whether that is clothing, bed sheets, towels, homewares, toys, sanitary products, personal care items like makeup pads and ear buds, stationery and more. Or, perhaps you just have a few organic cotton pieces in your wardrobe which you know as soft-feeling, better quality and long-lasting pieces. If the latter is you, you may not realise the bigger-picture benefits of choosing 100% organic cotton over conventional cotton.
Did you know it takes around 2,700 litres of water to make a single conventional cotton tee?
That’s not a typo – 2,700 litres! Yep, when we look at the resources it takes to make clothing, it’s overwhelming to think of the impact our fast-evolving wardrobes have on the environment. In fact, cotton is used in 40% of worldwide textile production – 40%! And 91% of conventional cotton uses GMO seeds (genetically modified organisms – more on that below).
So, what exactly is organic cotton?
Simply, it is cotton that has been certified as being produced to organic agricultural standards. That means, no toxic chemicals, insecticides or pesticides are used in its farming. Organic cotton also uses 71% less water (organic cotton is 80% rain-fed which leaves local water stores for other important things like, uh, drinking) and 62% less energy to produce, reducing greenhouse gas emissions up to 94%, and uses low-impact dyes made from minerals, vegetables or clays.
Importantly too, organic cotton farming practice builds soil organic matter through crop rotation, intercropping and composting.
How is organic cotton different to other cotton?
Conventional cotton is made using genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This means the seed used to grow the conventional cotton is not pure; it has been engineered to be resistant to the pesticides and insecticides used during farming. Of course, while the cotton is resistant, the toxins impact the farming communities through exposure and run-off into water systems.
Website aboutorganiccotton.org estimates that conventional cotton uses around 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides. These chemicals have a flow-on into our daily lives, not only through what we wear and wash into our marine systems, but also what we consume. Cotton seed oil, a cotton by-product, is used in hundreds of processed foods like chips, biscuits, vegetable oils and livestock feed. If you or someone you know consumes these foods regularly – conventional cotton production becomes part of their diets.
Is organic cotton better than other cotton?
Many of the chemicals used to create conventional cotton – whether the pesticides or insecticides used during farming, or the dyes used during production, or the chemicals added for ‘anti-bacterial’ or ‘anti-wrinkle’ or ‘easy care’ features, are known carcinogens and can cause various health issues for the wearers.
Additionally, when we wash textiles in a washing machine, they release microfibres which are then flushed into our waterways. Natural fibres like cotton and hemp biodegrade over time, whereas synthetic fibres such as rayon (semi-synthetic and made from wood pulp but made into fibre through a chemically-intense process) and polyester (made from a non-renewable fossil fuel, petroleum) do not. So, when these synthetic and semi-synthetic fibres wash into our marine systems (a single cycle of washing can release 700,000 microfibres!), they create a big problem that doesn’t go away.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, around 1.7 million tonnes of microfibres enter the ocean each year. These contaminants threaten our coral reef ecosystems and marine animals. (Vegan Scout was conceived in Queensland, Australia, which is the home of the Great Barrier Reef, so this is an issue particularly dear to us.)
Further, a study of tap water samples from more than a dozen countries showed 83% of samples contained plastic fibres – so we are literally drinking plastic.
What’s the deal with organic cotton and fair trade?
Adding to the environmental benefits of organic cotton, are also people benefits. Once organic cotton leaves the farm and lands at the textile mill, the standards set by the Fair Wear Foundation demand manufacturers adhere to no child labour, reasonable hours of work, safe and clean working conditions, fair pay for workers and no bonded jobs, ie the adults want to work and aren’t forced to.
(All Vegan Scout apparel is manufactured by a member of the Fair Wear Foundation.)
What can you do?
Choose only natural fabrics that are ethically and environmentally responsible in their production, like 100% organic cotton – and spread the word!
Sources: aboutorganiccotton.org, organicconsumers.org, orbmedia.org, plymouth.ac.uk