Before getting to the actual organic cotton, it seems important to tackle the (still widely spread) misconception about traditional cotton being an eco-friendly fibre (emphasis on traditional). After all, it grows naturally and it’s biodegradable. So what’s the matter?
The matter is that too often we forget to consider other constituants that make a product/material eco-friendly or not. In the case of cotton, even though the final product isn’t bad for the environment, its production process actually is…
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Being the most-demanded natural textile fibre in the world (95% of the demand), we can blaim an excessive demand, pressuring producers to use unethical methods to grow the cotton faster.
The thing with cotton is that it requires a huge amount of water to grow. We are talking about 29 000 liters to produce… 1 kilo of cotton. And out of that, you will barely get a t-shirt.
And let’s not forget the amount of pesticides used to grow the cotton faster.
Now let’s talk about its eco-friendly brother: organic cotton.
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The main difference between cotton and organic cotton is obviously the farming process, but you will be happy to hear that organic cotton products are also stronger and healthier.
Organic cotton is grown using methods that have a low environmental impact. It basicaly tries to fix the negative impact of its older brother, which implies several “improvements” such as:
– No chemical fertilizers and GMO are used in the growing
– It uses rainwater as an alternative to fresh water (up to 80%)
– Soil fertility is maintained by a soil rotation system (less irrigation)
– Not pesticides are used. Pest in managed with beneficial insects
– Crops are handpicked (it results in stronger, purer and softer cotton)
Image by aboutorganiccotton.org
Thereby, organic cotton is better for the environment (soil, water consumption, carbon footprint…), safer for the health of the workers and benefical to animals and insects. In addition to that, no chemicals are used in the manufacturing of the organic cotton, which makes is a great hypoallergenic clothing fabric.
So why hasn’t organic cotton totally replaced the conventional one yet? Well let’s have a look at some disadvantages of organic cotton.
Some sources claim that cotton labeled as organic may not always be as sustainable as we think. And this is mostly based on the fact that organic cotton plants produce less cotton fibre than traditional GMO plants.
Which means oragnic farmers need more lands, hence more water and workers, to produce the same amount of cotton. All this contribute to higher production costs and thereby, higher retail price for products made of organic cotton fabric.
Photo by Trisha Downing on Unsplash
Also, not using harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides is great. But natural and synthetic pesticides are still allowed, and some of them, such as Rotetone, can actually also be harmful.
The key is control and knowledge. We must make sure that a majority of rainwater is used for organic farming and that the natural pesticides used are safe. But there is the problem: it’s not always easy to make sure of this.
Yet, despite this lack of control, organic cotton remains a better, healthier and more eco-friendly option than traditional cotton.
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