The Whole Truth About Cotton
If you are reading this, the thought of buying organic cotton seems like a conscious, earth-friendly thing to do. But when it comes down to seeing the actual price tag, many of us feel tempted to change our minds about buying these products.
It’s true, organic cotton is more expensive. And so, the cost conscious part of us then justifies buying products made of 100% cotton, which is cheaper. (e.g. jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, towels, bed sheets etc) that are labeled as 100% cotton.
However, if you take some time to actually learn about the actual truth behind how mass-produced cotton is farmed and processed, we at Ecoist promise that you will forever become a loyal fan of organic cotton instead.
It’s Cheaper But Is It Natural?
If something is made of 100% cotton, we think of it as being natural and free of synthetics. So what’s wrong with buying an all-cotton product? After all, it didn’t involve the manufacturing of polyester, a process which uses petroleum and the processing of complicated-sounding chemicals like monotheluene glycol (MEG) and terephthalic acid.
The concept of 100% cotton, seems like a natural-sounding option. And with affordable price points for products who could resist?
On the other hand, most people consider organic when it comes to the food that we eat and put into our bodies.
So why would it even be necessary to buy organic cotton? Isn’t it just some form of eco-luxury that we can easily do without?
How 100% Cotton Is Farmed
Believe it or not, the production of (unorganic) white cotton is devastating to the environment.
Growing this type of cotton only occupies about 2.5% of the earth’s total agricultural area. However, soil fertility becomes drastically reduced. There is also a loss of biodiversity. And the processing of this cotton requires the use of large volumes of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides.
7% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides are invested into the manufacturing of this cotton. These neurotoxic formulas are then released into the environment, polluting and distorting ecosystems. Not to mention, they are also detrimental to human health.
According to the EPA, 7 out of 15 insecticides used are known to contain carcinogens.
From the time the seeds are planted, insecticides and fungicides are used and 70% of these chemicals are GMO, used as synthetic fertilizers, weed killers and leaf removers.
Cotton’s dependency on insecticides is known to be the highest out of all agricultural products in the world.
None of these practices are used with the farming and processing of organic cotton. Healthy fertile soil is maintained through crop rotation. Instead of chemicals, the leaves are removed by freeze drying water. And biodiversity is also preserved.
The Issue of Water
Compared to organic cotton, conventional cotton uses over 4 times as much water (i.e. 29,000 liters of water for every 1kg of cotton). Organic cotton, on the other hand, only needs 7000 liters of water.
This type of water usage depletes the amount of clean water available for locals, creating dangerous conditions in the event of a drought. Huge volumes of residues are deposited from the cleaning, dyeing and finishing processes. Oxygen levels are also reduced, killing aquatic organisms and endangering entire ecosystems.
According to the Textile Exchange, a global non-profit whose mission is to drive industry change towards responsible fiber production, organic cotton farming is “significantly more environmentally friendly, less likely to contribute to global warming, acidification and eutrophication, compared to the farming of conventional cotton. These conclusions were based on a life cycle assessment of organic cotton, comparing the total environmental inputs and outputs, from seed planting to the final stage of cotton baling.
Turning 100% Cotton Into Clothing Causes Even More Pollution
The use of chemicals doesn’t just stop once cotton is farmed and harvested. Even more toxic chemicals are used during the textile manufacturing process.
To make just one T-shirt, a third of a pound of toxins and chemicals are invested into the process. Examples include silicone waxes, petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia and formaldehyde. And when we wear it, our body heat and sweat accelerate the absorption of these chemicals into our skin.
Convenience VS Conscience
If 100% cotton already causes this type of devastation to our environment and our health, can you imagine the impact created by the production of polyester?
Many of the clothes we shop for are made of cotton/polyester blends. Polyester manufacturers are one of the biggest polluters in the world. And the fibers themselves take 200 years to biodegrade.
It’s time that we now must weigh our need for convenience versus the voice of our inner conscience and what we know to be right. Choosing cost and our immediate impulse to buy those brand new pairs of sweatpants, athletic socks etc damages our world in more ways than we could ever imagine.
Organic cotton may be more expensive. But it is also pure, soft, comfy and of better quality, while helping to preserve our environment. Knowing how different types of cotton are produced will certainly make you feel fabulous about buying and wearing organic cotton.
Organic Cotton Inspires A New Generation of Slow Fashion
Organic cotton is not something that is an “I have to.” Now, there are more fashion designers, than ever, such as Stella McCarty and Eileen Fischer who are becoming inspired by the use of sustainable textiles. This includes organic cotton as well as recycled fibers. Their slow fashion designs reflect an eco-futurist vision which redefines our relationship with the environment.
Progressive textile production methods are made possible by certifications and specific manufacturing standards that support the integrity of nature.
Organic Cotton Certifications to Look For
An organization called the Central Union has played a pivotal role in helping the textile industry adopt sustainable sources as the starting point for manufacturing fabric and garments.
Their EKO Sustainable Textile Standard was the very first set of criteria to address sustainability.
GOTS Organic Cotton
Control Union also developed the international GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) for defining the requirements needed to produce what we consider to be organic cotton. Their socially and environmentally friendly criteria apply to harvesting, manufacturing and even labelling.
OEKO TEK and Standard 100
Oeko-Tek was developed to prevent the use of harmful substances in the production of textiles. A catalog, known as the OEKO-TEX criteria accounts for numerous chemicals and substances which may impact human health risks. It is updated each year to accommodate new scientific information and developments. OEKO-TEK makes it easier for manufacturers and consumers to stay on top of new regulations.
The Standard 100 assures that rigorous testing occurs at every component of garment production, and is accounted for including buttons, threads and accessories.
Fair Trade is perhaps the most well-known ethical labeling known to everyday consumers. These standards apply to a holistic trade picture including:
Economics and pricing
In the context of cotton production, Fair Trade standards prohibit the use of pesticides, toxic chemicals and GMO seeds.
Here at Ecoist, we are delighted to bring new awareness of both the risks entailed by conventional cotton production, as well as the amazing new advancements that are being made by a new wave of ecologically minded textile manufacturers and fashion designers.