Like many of us, you may be a little confused about the term ‘Organic Cotton’, what is it and how it is relevant or different from regular cotton, which is totally understandable! With the boundless amount of information available at our fingertips now, it’s not hard to find yourself overwhelmed and a tad bewildered on occasion, we certainly do!
At a glance, organic cotton is exactly how it reads - cotton that is grown free from the toxic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and other precarious conditions and practices that are all too often used in the growth of conventially produced cotton. However, below the surface of the word there’s lots to be learned about organic cotton, and why we should all be making the switch, for ourselves, our planet, and farmers all over the planet.
First and foremost, organic cotton is a much wiser option in terms of sustainability - non-organic cotton has been labelled ‘the worlds dirtiest crop’, due to the massive amount of chemical pesticides used in the process. More chemicals are sprayed onto cotton than any other crop in the world, with cotton crops using less than 3% of the world’s farmed land, yet manages to use up a quarter of the worlds pesticides - and that is a BIG problem.
Our skin is our largest organ, and its important that we do what we can to protect and look after it. Our skin can be affected by the clothes we wear, the products we use and the things we are exposed to, much like how the food we eat can affect our bodies, many chemicals in textile materials absorb into our skin over time. An array of the worlds most dangeorus pesticides are used on non-organic cotton crops. The effects of these chemicals and toxins constant contact with our skin can be devastating, and have been linked to many ailments such as eczema and psoriasis. However, items crafted from organic cotton are not only safe for our skin, with no harmful chemicals or toxins, but they are clean, safe, and super soft, as well as being breathable and light on our skin, which is why it is so important for little ones to wear organic, as their skin is so much more sensitive than ours!
The impacts of cotton on our environment are extremely destructive. A kilogram of cotton take anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 litres of water to produce, with a simple cotton shirt requiring approximately 2,700 litres of water to create. When we think about the gigantic quantity of garments made yearly, the water usage is unfathomable and to make matters worse the majority of non-organic cotton crops are located in areas prone to drought, so the production of cotton is adding another level of water stress to regions already extremely vulnerable to these conditions. Furthermore, the chemicals and toxins used when growing cotton crops, as well as the process of dyeing, are a massive contributor to the pollution of our water, with the many pesticides, chlorine, bleach and dyes used on cotton leaking into our water systems, rivers and oceans, causing a plethora of problems for our marine life and our our health These nasty chemicals don’t only affect the water but so many other aspects of the environment, with 43 million tons of dust and residue from cotton crops filled with toxins circulating in the air yearly, with the Aral Sea and its surrounding area dealing with the highest number of throat cancer cases in the world, directly linked to this air. Other consequences include greenhouse gas emmissions, with a study on non-organic cotton finding that 1 tonne of cotton fibre produces 1.8 tonnes of CO2e, soil depletion and decreasing biodiversity, with pest control sprays and chemicals having effects on more than just the targeted pests, but every insect in the area, as well as affecting other wildlife with bees, fish, and cows all being victims to these chemicals.
Organic cotton uses 62% less energy to grow and sustain, when compared to non-organic cotton.
Organic cotton however, is a much better choice for our environment, with synthetic, toxic pesticides and chemicals banned in organic farming practices, meaning no dangerous substance are washed into our waters and the soil that is used is kept healthy and hydrated. As well as this, organic is the way to go in the fight to combat climate change with organic cotton farmers using natural methods to grow their crops, rather than fertilisers that contain fossil fuels and cause hazardous emissions, resulting in 46 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than non-organic cotton.
Behind every t-shirt, bag, pair of socks or trousers that you purchase, there is a huge chain of people that were involved In the process of bringing those garments to your home, and the farmers that grow non-organic cotton are often dealing with awful conditions and paying the price for your clothes. Now that we know the absolutely devastating effects of the pesticides and chemicals used in conventional cotton farming, we can see how being exposed to these can affect humans, especially when they are not protected. All too often, the farmers that deal with the pesticides are not given access to any sort of protective gear, and are completely exposed to the chemicals, which has extremely detrimental effects of their health. Defoliants are often used on cotton crops, and were also used by the US army in the Vietnam war, causing birth defects, ruining vast areas of land, and seeing skyrocketing rates of cancer. It is unfortunately extremely common for cotton farmers in developing countries, such as India, where the worlds leading cotton production is found, not to be warned about the risks of these chemicals and are deceived by pesticide companies that tell them toxic chemicals are essential for cotton growth and ‘good’ crops. The effects of this are profound, with 77 million families being haunted by this pesticide use yearly, dealing with poisoning, cancer, loss of sight, lifelong implications such as chronic pain, and suicide.
Organic cotton farming ensures that the choices are in the hands of the farmers, not the GM companies who control the cotton seed markets. Organic cotton means no toxic pesticides and chemicals are used, resulting in the protection of farmers lives and their land, as well as improving rates of food security across families as they will no longer have to rely on one crop and a short growing season in which small-scale cotton farmers will rarely see sufficient or regular returns. With organic principles, farmers will be able to grow a wide range of crops, and maintain healthy soils, these crops often also providing a source of food, resulting in farmers being able to feed themselves and their families year-round.
The choices we make everyday as consumers have the power to change millions of lives, our environment, and our own health, it is important that we take a step back and think before we buy. Fast fashion is a billion dollar industry, and it is growing everyday
Some little changes you can make -
Sourcing your clothes from brands that use organic, safe materials, and treat their workers with respect and pay fair wages.
Try shopping for second-hand items
Ask around before you buy, we often forget that many of our friends, family and neighbours have many items they would be happy to pass on or lend
Take a look at what you have many of us don’t even realise we already have what we need, and taking a look through the back of your wardrobe or drawer may spark a new love for some old items!