Organic cotton pros and cons

organic cotton pros and cons

{ Cotton fields look so peaceful* }

Cotton is one of the most common fibers in the apparel industry. Most garments in my wardrobe are made out of cotton, most garments in yours probably are too. Cotton is used in jeans, T-shirts, jumpers, shirts, underwear, etc. Everyone owns something that’s made out of cotton, most of us owns a lot. But few of us realise what cotton production is actually doing to our environment and to the farmers that grows it. As the fiber is getting more and more recognition as a sustainable fiber, I think it’s important to look at organic cotton pros and cons before blindly trusting it’s praises.

First of all, conventional cotton production has resulted in a variety of serious environmental crises, such as reduced soil fertility, loss of biodiversity, and life-threatening health problems to those who have been exposed repeatedly to the toxic chemicals used in pesticides. And pesticides are a big part of the conventional cotton production. So organic cotton is undeniably a step in the right direction! However, cotton crops, conventional as well as organic, requires enormous amounts of water. One kilogram of cotton fiber, which is the amount necessary to make a single pair of jeans, requires between 7,000 and 29,000 litres of water. As water scarcity is increasing worldwide, this is worrisome in itself.

Organic cotton’s designation as organic often ends at harvest, without accounting for further stages of its life cycle – many of which are not sustainable. For example, all cotton – whether conventionally grown or organic – requires cleaning. The cleaning process involves desizing, scouring and bleaching, using chemicals that are usually toxic. And so, the final garment labelled organic cotton, might not be so organic after all.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with cotton, is the amount that needs to be produced to keep up with our consumption. So think about it the next time you buy a new cotton item; do you really need it? The amount of water and chemicals needed to produce it, will their impact on our planet have been worth it for you to get another pair of jeans? A new T-shirt, or whatever it is you’re considering buying?

Choose consciously, and if you do need another cotton garment, try finding an organic one, at least then you’ll help increase the demand for organic cotton instead of the demand for conventional. Eventually, this will hopefully also mean the stages after harvesting the crop will be organic.

Sources: “Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future” by Jennifer Farley Gordon & Colleen Hill

If you’re interested in learning more about conventional cotton production I highly recommend watching the film Bitter Seeds. It’s about the struggle of Indian cotton farmers, and it just really makes you think…

*Picture found via Google

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Hella Lynggaard

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