Cotton is amazing stuff. It’s no wonder it’s been used for thousands of years. It produces a fantastic breathable fabric and every one of us has a least one item made out of cotton. Just think about what you’re wearing, the linens in your home, furniture, cushions, even some paper has cotton in it.
In 2013–2014, 26.2 million tonnes of cotton was produced by 100 countries, according to a recent Soil Association report, with China, India and the USA being the biggest producers. That’s a lot of cotton.
Unfortunately, conventionally grown cotton is pretty bad in terms of the environment and people’s health. It uses literally tonnes of pesticides and nitrogen fertilisers; 16% of annual global insecticide use goes on cotton, which has led to it being called the world’s ‘dirtiest’ crop.
Pesticide use leads to indebtedness, chronic ill-health and even death among cotton farmers in the world’s poorest countries. Contamination of water supplies and food chains is also a major concern, and presents a serious environmental and human health risk.” (The Soil Association, Cool Cotton report)
Cotton also uses huge quantities of water to both grow it and turn it into fibre. To make one cotton T-shirt, how much water do you think you need? 2,700 litres! A lot of the water usage is related to chemical use.
How is organic cotton different?
Some people might argue that organic cotton production just isn’t as profitable, as yields are less. And that’s true, but not by much. A long-term study in India found yields of organic cotton were 14% lower than GM cotton. But associated costs were 38% lower.
Despite these slightly lower yields, income from organic farming is more stable due to the requirement for greater crop diversity in organic systems, including food crops in the rotation.
“Not only are input costs, medical bills and food purchases reduced, but farmers are able to save or invest their income in a more stable and secure future.” (The Soil Association, Cool Cotton report)
A comprehensive report on global organic cotton production was published by the Textile Exchange in 2014. The study found that organic cotton produced significantly less CO2 per tonne of cotton fibre compared to conventionally grown cotton – a 46% reduction in global warming potential.
The research also found a massive 91% reduction in water consumption – only 180 cubic metres of blue water is consumed per tonne of organic cotton, compared to 2,120 cubic metres in conventional cotton.” (The Soil Association, Cool Cotton report)
So, just from looking at those few stats, it seems that organic cotton production saves water, saves money, saves using lots of chemicals (which stops environmental pollution and health risks to farmers and their families), doesn’t pump out so much CO2, and gives farmers more food security. That’s all good stuff.
Then you’ve also got the issue of slave labour in certain cotton producing countries, namely Uzbekistan. Here’s a video Anti-Slavery International recently released to explain the situation.
Where do you like to shop for organic cotton?
Based on the above, given the choice, I’ll always opt for organic cotton. Here’s a few of the companies I like to buy from. Do you have any favourites? Share them with me in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list!
Earth Kind Originals — organic cotton clothing, some of it made in Cornwall
Seasalt — organic cotton clothing
Natracare — great biodegradable, organic cotton sanitary products
Organic Textile Company — fabulous range of organic and ethically sourced fabrics for craft and fashion
Offset Warehouse — organic and ethically sourced fabrics for craft and fashion
Cloud 9 Fabrics — beautiful organic cotton printed fabrics for craft and fashion
Whale Bags — stylish and useful organic cotton roll up bags