Sometimes we believe that some fabric that we wear is good for the Earth, just because it seems like the material is 100% natural. Unfortunately sometimes we can be mistaken (I for sure was). Little do we know that cotton can be super unsustainable depending on the way its grown and manufactured. Let’s see below the difference between conventional cotton and organic cotton, and if you should be wearing organic cotton yoga clothing after all.
Facts About Conventional Cotton
So what exactly is cotton? Cotton is a type of natural fiber coming from the cotton plant (Gossypium genus). Apparently two of the first productions of cotton was in India in the 5th millennium B.C., and in 6,000 B.C. in Peru. Fast forward to now, cotton is the largest non-food crop in the world! We cannot say that cotton is of no use to us, as it produces many of our everyday items, such as bed sheets, towels, underwear, pillows, clothing, and cottonseed oil.
Cotton fabric is made by first removing the raw cotton from the cotton boll by the cotton gin (mechanical process). Then the cotton fiber is turned into long strands, and then woven into fabric.
Conventional cotton makes up of almost 1/2 of textiles around the world. It actually provides income for about 300 million people, which makes up of 7% of the population in developing countries (where most cotton are grown in). Cotton is usually grown in U.S., Brazil, Pakistan, India, Turkey, China, and Uzbekistan. The reason why cotton is so popular, is that it’s a super versatile crop, and the fabric is durable, comfortable, easy to wash, and biodegradable. Cotton fabric is also well sought-after due to its breathability – in which you can use whether you are sweating during summer, or shivering during winter.
Although cotton is a well sought-after fabric, unfortunately it can be a really unsustainable crop.
Why You Should Stop Buying Conventional Cotton
It’s no secret that cotton has a major impact on the environment. Let’s go through the unsustainable practices that cotton is famous for:
- Water Intensive – did you know that to make a single pair of jeans, you need about 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of water to cultivate cotton? That is a crazy amount. Cotton is supposedly better off growing in places where there is a lot of rainfall, but unfortunately it is often not and it depends heavily on irrigation. You can read a really unfortunate story here regarding the sad fate of the Aral Sea (in Uzbekistan) which has desiccated due to the irrigation of water for cotton farming.
- Toxic Chemicals & Pesticides – for some reason, insects, worms, fungal diseases, weeds, and many other pests love cotton – therefore increasing the need to use pesticides. In fact, 7% of the demand for pesticide 16% of the demand for insecticide in the world comes from cotton alone. These toxic chemicals pollute our water & air, harm our environment and animals, and make people severely sick. Even the cotton that has been genetically modified to prevent pests from attacking, still require pesticides & insecticides as the insects become more and more resistant. FYI, the end product can also cause some allergic reactions due to the chemicals used.
- Low Wages – not only are some cotton farmers in developing countries earning very low wages, but there is also the problem of child-labor.
- Soil Degradation – cotton is known for soil erosion, meaning that eventually cotton will need to be grown in new land, which ends up destroying more of our precious habitats.
Image Source: https://global-standard.org
Is Organic Cotton Any Better?
Organic cotton is not supposed to be genetically modified and should not use any toxic chemicals & pesticides to get rid of the pests. What they do instead, is use some types of insects or other types of natural substances to ward off the harmful pests. This is already a much safer option for the cotton workers, for our water & environment, and for the end user. Certain organic cotton productions also avoid soil erosion by having a cycle of planting other crops.
But unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and roses. Not all organic cotton are produced the same way. Some companies use organic cotton, but are still dying the fabric with harmful dyes that heavily pollute our environment. Not only that, but sometimes the organic cotton can also be mixed with conventional cotton.
There is a lot of contradicting information on the internet regarding how much water organic cotton uses compared to conventional cotton. Also, regarding the types of pesticides that may be allowed to be used in organic cotton. When buying organic cotton, it’s imperative that we go deeper into their story. Look out for certificates & organizations that the brand that you are buying from is part of, such as:
- BIC (Better Cotton Initiative) – they are a non-profit organization who want to help make cotton more sustainable, by focusing on the production, farmers, and environment.
- GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) – it is a certification that ensures that the product is organic from the beginning until the end product. – this is probably one of the strictest and best standard, compared to OCS
- STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® – they test for any toxic chemicals that may be in the fabric
- OCS (Organic Content Standard) – they are also a certification that has organic standards for cotton plantations to follow (but not as strict).
- FLOCERT – they ensure that the whole supply chain is based on fair practices, from producers, to traders, and brands.
Are There Any Other Alternatives?
Luckily, there are some companies out there that are trying to come up with innovative ways to produce cotton, such as hydroCotton. They are still at the beginning of their journey, but hopefully we will start to hear more about them in 2021.
There are other eco friendly fabrics such as recycled plastic fiber, organic bamboo fabric, organic hemp fabric, recycled nylon, and others. These types of fabrics are not perfect, but they always try to offset their carbon footprint by helping in other environmental/social aspects. It also all depends on the brand.
We can definitely agree that conventional cotton is one of the most polluting crops out there. Thankfully, a lot of companies are starting to lean towards organic cotton or cotton that is produced more sustainably, however we do need to be careful as the word “organic” can be thrown around to a brand’s advantage. Before you buy your organic cotton yoga clothing, make sure that you try to find out more about the company. As WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has said in their website regarding buying cotton, “make each choice count”. You can check out what the brand Pact is doing here.
What do you think of organic cotton? Share with us your favorite brand!