You may have heard about organic cotton and wondered, what is it exactly? How is organic cotton different from regular cotton? Yes, we have organic foods, organic products, but how does this apply to clothes? Is organic cotton better for skin? Is it like a high quality cotton? Keep on reading because you’ll find all these answers and much more!
1. What is organic cotton?
Organic cotton is the definition of sustainably grown cotton. It means 100% naturally cultivated cotton, supporting a healthy environment, healthy working conditions for farmers and natural cotton for the end buyers.
Apart from conventional cotton production, which uses synthetic or chemical substances such as pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, organic cotton only uses natural fertilizers such as manure or compost to help the plants grow. Also, regular cotton seeds are genetically modified (GMO), while organic cotton uses only natural seeds. As a consequence, regular cotton has negative effects on the environment, on farmers and can also affect your health.
Organic cotton practices are focused on conserving the land, the water, the environment and the wildlife by using less resources and by not adding chemical processes and genetic engineering.
Organic cotton feels softer on the skin, is extremely smooth and and more durable than regular cotton. Why? Because it uses only naturally grown processes so the yarn is stronger and the fibers are much more stable than conventional cotton. Not to mention it is biodegradable.
2. The difference between organic cotton and regular cotton
Cotton is called the dirties crop in the world because it is grown on 2.5% of the cultivated crop area in the world, but uses 16% of all insecticides and 7% of all herbicides (according to theWorldCounts), which is more than any other crop in the world. The chemicals used for cotton production are very harmful for human health and for the environment. They end up on the land, the water and the air, severely damaging and polluting nature.
Also, unsustainable cotton production uses more resources than organic cotton production, especially water, cotton being a crop which needs it a lot. With organic cotton, lands are usually chosen in areas where it naturally rains. 1/5 of the water is also used to dilute the pesticides, fertilizers etc., which is not the case for organic cotton.
However, only 0.7% of cotton production is organic cotton. We need to support this industry.
|Organic Cotton||Regular Cotton|
|Methods of growing||▪️ only uses 100% natural fertilizes, such as manure and compost.||▪️ uses synthetic fertilizers;|
▪️ uses toxic chemical insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides;
▪️ uses chemicals for defoliation.
|Cotton seeds||▪️ only natural seeds are used to plant organic cotton.||▪️ uses genetically modified seeds (GMO), engineered to be herbicide and insect resistant.|
|Environmental impact||▪️ maintains and promotes environment sustainability and people’s health.||▪️ affects soil, water, air and farmer’s health by using toxic chemicals.|
▪️ devastating environmental impact, also called the dirtiest crop because it uses more pesticides and chemicals than other corps, which may cause irreversible effects on nature
|Resources used||▪️ 91% lower water consumption;|
▪️ 62% lower energy demand;
▪️ 46% lower CO2-emissions;
▪️ 26% lower soil erosion.
|▪️ resource depleting crop, especially water.|
|Farmer’s health||▪️ farmers are safe and have fair working conditions||▪️ farming practices involving chemicals cause severe health problems, deaths and very low income. Sometimes slavery and child labour is used. Read more on part 3C of this article.|
|Final product||▪️ hypo-allergenic, durable, biodegradable, infant approved.||▪️ cause irritated skin, rashes, because the chemicals can’t be washed out of the cotton;|
▪️ are less durable, not biodegradable, because it uses GMO cotton.
3. Advantages of organic cotton
A. On the environment
The chemicals used for producing regular cotton have severe effects on the environment:
▪️ water pollution – runoff chemicals used on the land also contaminate surrounding ecosystems such as groundwater, rivers, lakes etc.
▪️ soil contamination – the land is contaminated and eventually loses its properties.
▪️ air pollution – the chemicals make the air very toxic to humans and other animals.
▪️ reduces biodiversity – pesticide use has negative effects on biodiversity, destroying habitats, and threatening endangered species. Pesticide residue has been discovered in foods, farm animals, and even breast milk.
Also, the resources are depleted such as:
▪️ water – a pair of cotton jeans uses more than 10 tons of water to produce. The Aral Sea was emptied from cotton production, and it is almost left without water. 90% of the sea has disappeared from 1960.
▪️ land – it causes soil erosion as well as loss of forest area and habitats.
Organic cotton is grown with natural methods that lessen the impact on the environment. Farming practices are clean and help maintain soil fertility, for example manure, naturally enriches and builds healthier soils. Land with higher organic matter hold the water much better, thus requiring less irrigation in time, and can absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere, also helping with climate change. 80% of organic cotton lands are located in rainy areas, to conserve this resource. Farmers use crop rotation to naturally control pests and diseases.
B. Advantages for your health
The pesticides and chemicals used for growing conventional cotton create a residue that now becomes part of the cotton, and is never washed out. These can be then absorbed by the human body through skin contact. This means irritated skin, rashes, and sometimes dizziness, headaches, respiratory problems and childhood asthma. The number of people who are experiencing these problems has been growing alarmingly.
People wearing organic cotton clothing report the material is softer, extremely comfortable, and more breathable. Organic cotton plants produce stable cotton fibers with stronger yarn, thus making it more durable, for long term wear. Organic cotton feels luxurious on the skin, and people swear it even smells better! Not to mention, if you have sensitive skin, allergies or rashes, you will greatly benefit from wearing this material.
C. Safe and fair trade work for farmers
The toxic chemicals poison farmers across the world. Thousands of deaths are caused by pesticides in developing countries. There have been cases of mishandled toxic substances which lead to injuries, permanent body damage and fatalities among farmers. The exposure to such hazardous chemicals cause a lot of severe health issues such as respiratory problems, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, nervous system problems, asthma and others. The poison can also be passed down to next generations and cause spontaneous abortion, still birth, sterility, behavioral abnormalities, etc. Factory workers also exposed because they breathe the toxic fumes from this processed material during the manufacturing stage.
Farmers also reported that the rising costs of fertilizers, GM seeds will result in them not making a living even though they are working long hours in very hard conditions. This often leads to debt and some farmers committed suicide because if not being able to see a way out.
Child labour and slavery is also widespread in this industry. Some farmers do not afford protective equipment and are not provided with any. Children are even more vulnerable to toxic substances because they have smaller bodies and their organs are still developing.
With organic cotton, farmers are paid a fair price for their work. They are working in safe conditions, as there are no pesticides used. Their health is safe, they can support their families and have a better environment to grow and develop. The community grows stronger, more opportunities appear, education and heath system improves.
They have independence from pesticide companies and are free of pressure from debt collectors. Also, GMO cotton seeds are banned from organic farming, so farmers used their own seeds, year after year, and are not reliant on GMO companies.
4.Why is Organic Cotton more expensive?
Organic cotton is more expensive for several reasons:
▪️ the use only of natural seeds, harder to find because there is less organic cotton produced worldwide.
▪️ farming practices are more labour intensive due to restrictions of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other toxic substances. Weeds are removed manually.
▪️ less cotton yield per acre, as there are no “enhancers” used.
▪️ fair trade payment for farmers.
▪️ demands separate transportation, storage, manufacturing from cotton, to avoid contamination.
▪️ the protocol to ensure it respects all the standards and parameters add to the extra cost.
There may also be other reasons, but, however, it is a bit more expensive and it’s a fair price if we compare to the side-effects of regular cotton production.
Organic cotton cares about people and the environment, it’s a safer choice than short term gains and so many other problems that come with this industry. Organic cotton is the road to sustainable, growing landscapes and communities.