FAQs About Cotton
Yes and no. Cotton is an all-natural fiber that grows well in several climates and can be harvested fairly easily. It’s washable, breathable, absorbent, and strong. It can be recycled and made into yarn or new garments. Cotton is versatile and can be made into everything from jeans to jerseys. It also mixes well with other fibers to create unique fabric blends.
All of this put together means that cotton has the potential to be an entirely sustainable, renewable, biodegradable resource — it just hasn’t had the opportunity to live up to that potential just yet.
Cotton is the largest natural fiber supplying the global demand for textile products. In 2005, the world's demand for textile fibers was 130 billion pounds. In 2006 and beyond, world income and population growth will stimulate a 4.5 billion pound increase in global fiber demand each year. That means enough fiber will be needed for nearly 9 billion tee shirts or 2.3 billion pairs of denim jeans. And the main alternatives to cotton are non-renewable chemical fibers.
Absolutely. Cotton is sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable, making it an excellent choice as an environmentally-friendly fiber throughout its entire product life cycle. Most chemical fibers are petroleum based, which means they come from nonrenewable resources.
Organic cotton is another sustainable alternative to chemically-based or synthetic fibers. There are strict standards in the United States for organic cotton, and it is not easy to become a certified organic cotton operation. "Organic" means the cotton is produced to a set of strict USDA standards, enforced by USDA-certifying agents who must annually inspect fields and the operation for adherence to National Organic Program (NOP) standards. NOP standards require a 3-year conversion for land before organic crops can be harvested, so becoming an organic cotton producer is a long-term decision.
Interest in organic cotton has increased among retailers and brands but there is no sustained, measurable increase in the organic cotton supply, which is estimated at only 0.55% of global cotton production. In fact, the entire world supply of organic cotton would fit on one medium-sized cargo ship. And that's understandable when you look at what it takes to become organic - tough standards and more management because of the standards that prohibit various synthetic inputs and practices. Generally, organic production means higher costs, which typically translate into premiums of 50% to 100% in raw fiber prices. From a production perspective alone, it would take an additional 6 million acres - 40 percent of the current harvested cotton acreage in the U.S.-to meet the current market demand for U.S. cotton.
New technology, such as insect-resistant and drought-resistant varieties, continues to reduce the need for pesticides and water. These same varieties will improve yields, allowing for more cotton to be grown on the same amount of land. Conservation tillage practices (less plowing and disturbing of the soil) have increased dramatically in the U.S., leading to less erosion and runoff. These practices, as adopted in the U.S. from 1996-2004, have reduced CO2 emissions by an amount equivalent to removing over 27,000 cars from the road-permanently!
Nearly everyone on Earth is familiar with the touch and feel of cotton. But cotton has never needed any sort of viral slogan to make it popular. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), cotton’s global reach is so massive that its production provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide.
Organic cotton is generally less environmentally-destructive than conventional cotton, primarily since organic cotton does not use any pesticides. Unfortunately, like most industries of its size, conventional cotton's current production methods are often pretty environmentally unsustainable as they come. Therefore, the question isn’t whether or not cotton is sustainable, but whether we can continue to maintain growing conventional cotton at this rate without hurting the planet.
It’s the light, breathable fabric that keeps your skin cool in summer and your sheets silky smooth year ’round. Chances are, you’re one of many people who use cotton daily. So, is cotton truly as sustainable and ethical as advertised? Cotton may have done a lot to clean up its image since its colonial days as the crop that launched a thousand slaves (or, to be precise, 1.8 million) to the American cotton fields, but how much has changed?
Cotton is a natural fibre found in many wardrobe staples such as jeans and t-shirts. Compared to other common clothing fibres such as synthetic polyester, semi-synthetic rayon, and bamboo, cotton has the advantage of being a completely natural product, which means it’s biodegradable.
Although cotton is a naturally occurring fibre, its production is nevertheless haunted by claims of pollution, exploitation, and slavery—yes, even today. The most abundantly produced natural fibre in the world, it is estimated that 25 million tons of cotton are produced every year. With so much cotton being grown globally, it’s crucial to take a closer look at some of the issues, concerns, and solutions to the production of this so-called “white gold” and answer once and for all—is cotton sustainable and ethical?
Cotton: A Very Hungry Plant
The two-edged sword of cotton cultivation is that it must be grown in arid environments and consumes large amounts of water. This indicates that the annual production of cotton for clothing uses a substantial amount of water, and that this in turn contributes to the drying up of sea basins. Cotton items should be chosen with this "virtual water" in mind. According to studies, growing the cotton for one t-shirt can require thousands of litres of water. However, this excessive water loss is usually the result of inefficient water usage and contamination brought on by pesticide use, not just irrigation (more on pesticides later).
In addition to being used as a lubricant, chemicals used in manufacturing and colouring also contribute to water pollution. Due to the high expense of properly disposing of the hazardous chemicals used in fabric dyeing, the push to mass-produce apparel at lower costs frequently leads to the contamination of river systems. In China, the fashion sector is responsible for 3.5 billion gallons of wastewater annually, which is thought to have contaminated 60% of the country's rivers and lakes.
It is crucial to be aware of these numerous litres of "virtual water" when purchasing cotton goods. You could think this is completely arbitrary, but consider that there are 99 million people in India who do not have access to clean drinking water, and that much of the water used in cotton production enough to give 86% of the country's 1.34 billion inhabitants 99 litres of water each day for an entire year
Why GMO Cotton Is Such a Big Deal
Some of the data on modern cotton growing is downright disturbing. More than 12,500 Indian cotton growers committed suicide between 2000 and 2015, and by 2015, 90% of the cotton cultivated in India came from genetically modified (GMO) seeds.
There may be some mystery as to the connection between these two numbers. There are claims, however, that the advent of GMO cotton has made life far more difficult for farmers in India. Even though genetically modified (GMO) cotton isn't solely to blame for these tragedies, it is a big part in the financial trap in which many Indian farmers are ensnared. But then why is there a problem with GMO cotton?
These cotton seeds are marketed with the promise that they will produce plants with greater resistance to pests, particularly the bollworm, which may cause severe damage to cotton crops.
When it comes time to replant, though, issues occur. Because GMO cotton seeds have been altered such that they cannot have offspring, farmers are required to replace their seed supply annually. Many farmers are forced to pay well beyond fair market value for Bt cotton seeds on the underground market because of excessive demand and government price controls (average price is three to eight times that of regular seeds). Many small-scale farmers have to turn to private money lenders, who charge much higher interest rates, because they are unable to obtain loans from larger institutions.
Furthermore, research have suggested that Bt cotton may not be as effective as advertised at preventing pests. To manage their Bt cotton fields, farmers must buy insecticides from Monsanto, which also sells the seeds. Farmers employ these sprays without safety gear or training, despite the fact that many of the chemicals contained within them have been outlawed in the West. Sadly, when farmers do commit suicide, it is often by ingesting the chemicals they owe money on.
The cotton industry's shady beginnings in the slave trade are well-documented. Okay, but what should we do now? The claims of forced labour and child various and labour phases of the process continue to plague the sector. The International Labor Organization, however, reports that most forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton fields has been eradicated.
Problems also arise in countries like Brazil and Central and West Africa, where local farmers are unable to compete with the low prices of US-subsidized cotton. Improvements in market access and the elimination of cotton export subsidies were agreed upon during a World Trade Organization summit held in Nairobi, Kenya, in the summer of 2016, but more has to be done.
After the plants have been harvested, workers may still be subjected to inhumane working circumstances that amount to slavery if they are tasked with refining and processing the raw cotton. We really need to find a better way to do this. And that's good news, because there is.
Do You Have Any Opinions on Organic Cotton?
Just what are people saying about organic cotton that makes it so special? Organic cotton has many benefits beyond the obvious one that it is free of hazardous chemicals. Remake found that clothing contains traces of petroleum scours, heavy metals, ammonia, flame retardants, and formaldehyde, all of which were used as pesticides during the production of cotton. So, not only is wearing organic cotton beneficial for your health, but also for the health of the people who farm it.
Farmers can break the cycle of debt and poverty by switching to organic cotton, the seeds of which are less expensive than Bt cotton. Plus, using less pesticides is beneficial for the planet, the farmers, and your health. It is crucial to ensure that businesses that use organic cotton also have strong labour standards in place, as there is still the question of how the cotton is processed and converted into clothes.
There are currently 36 prominent brands that have committed to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. These brands include Adidas, ASOS, H&M, and Burberry. It's great to see that there's increasing interest in cotton grown in a way that minimises the negative social and environmental effects of conventional farming methods. New methods are also emerging to assist businesses in tracking the origins of their cotton, with blockchain being one example fashion industry evolve in a more sustainable and moral direction. A number of major fashion companies, including C&A, PVH Corp., and Kering, as well as charitable organisations like Fashion For Good and the C&A Foundation, have joined up with blockchain startup Bext360. With the help of this initiative, companies will be able to track the history and ethical standing of the cotton that goes into the goods they sell.
The CottonUP guide to sustainable cotton was prepared by a coalition of organisations with the shared goal of increasing the global usage of sustainable cotton and is a useful reference for anybody interested in this topic.
The Good On You app and Directory allow consumers to research and compare the environmental and labour rights policies of different brands. If you know what certifications to look for, picking materials that are sustainable throughout the production process should be a breeze. Fairtrade and the Global Organic Textile Standard are two examples.
The reasons why cotton cannot be grown indefinitely are discussed.
According to Common Objective, cotton has been harvested and used by humans since at least 5,000 B.C. Essentially, the "bolls" of cotton are selected, de-seeded with a cotton gin, cleaned, carded, and spun into yarn, which is then oven-dyed and woven into cloth. The majority of the issues with cotton's long-term viability, however, start well outside of the field. It takes a lot of time, effort, and fuel to get the massive cotton bales from the fields to the textile factories and beyond. That doesn't even account for all the fossil fuels used in the actual production of cotton. However, that's only the beginning.
How Can Cotton Become an Eco-Friendly Crop?
Cotton still has the ability to realise its sustainable potential, despite decades of environmental mismanagement. At least in some parts of the globe, this has already occurred. The harvesting and processing of organic cotton is far more eco-friendly. In 2016, PE International did a life cycle analysis of organic cotton and discovered that compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton requires 91% less fresh water and just 33% of the energy to process.
Farmers who prefer to use organic methods of cotton production often lose business to larger corporations. This has led to numerous environmental organisations advocating for stricter rules on the ethical production of cotton. Fairtrade International is one of these organisations, along with Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).
Even though they are all working towards the same end, the means by which they hope to achieve it are rather different. While some seek to address the industry's socioeconomic issues through sustainability, others focus on environmental benefits. There may be a need to work on both fronts if cotton is to achieve full sustainability. For starters, it could involve updating and modernising tired manufacturing practises. That can only happen if powerful people in the industry work to improve things.
Cotton is a versatile natural fibre that may be woven or knitted into a fabric that is strong, lightweight, airy, absorbent, and easy to care for in the washing machine. Cotton has been used as a textile by humans as far back as 5,000 BC, with traces of this practise having been discovered in far-flung places including Mexico, Pakistan, and Peru. Over 90% of India's cotton harvest in 2015 was grown from GMO seeds. Between the years between 2000 and 2015, over 12,500 Indian cotton farmers committed suicide. The amount of water required in cotton production could supply 86% of India's population with 99 litres of water every day for a full year.
There is a lot of evidence linking the cotton industry to the slave trade. Claims of forced labour and child labour at different stages of the process persist as a major problem for the industry. More than thirty-six companies have pledged to utilise only sustainably-grown cotton by 2025. The environment, farmers, and human health all benefit from reduced pesticide use. As part of their efforts to promote the widespread adoption of sustainable cotton, a number of groups collaborated to create the CottonUP sustainable cotton guide.
The garment industry is evolving in a more sustainable direction, and new technologies are emerging to help businesses identify the sources of their cotton. However, most of the problems that threaten cotton's long-term viability have their roots in places other than the fields themselves. Organic cotton is much better for the environment because it is harvested and processed in a more sustainable way. Organic cotton uses 91% less fresh water and 33% less energy to process than conventional cotton.
- Cotton has been used as a primary textile for centuries.
- But some people are beginning to question whether or not cotton is the most environmentally friendly material.
- Despite the fact that the cotton plant thrives wild in many arid tropical and subtropical areas, cotton is a very labor-intensive crop.
- Cotton production is fraught with difficulties, as the plant demands dry climates and uses a lot of water.
- When shopping for cotton goods, keep this "virtual water" in mind.
- Though it may seem random, consider that 86% of India's 1.34 billion people might each have access to 99 litres of water per day for a whole year if they were given just a fraction of the water utilised in cotton production. The Problem with Genetically Modified Cotton and Why It Matters A closer look at the numbers behind today's cotton production reveals some deeply unsettling trends.
- Between 2000 and 2015, over 12,500 Indian cotton farmers committed themselves, and by that same year, 90% of India's cotton crop was grown using GMO seeds.
- However, it has been argued that the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton has significantly hampered the standard of living of Indian farmers.
- While GMO cotton isn't entirely to blame for these disasters, it plays a significant role in the economic quagmire in which many Indian farmers find themselves.
- The cotton plants that these seeds are meant to generate are supposed to be more resistant to pests, especially the bollworm, which may cause significant damage to cotton fields.
- Farmers must regularly replenish their seed stock with genetically modified (GM) cotton because the modified seeds are sterile and cannot reproduce.
- Due to high demand and official price limits, many farmers have no choice except to purchase Bt cotton seeds on the black market at exorbitant prices (average price is three to eight times that of regular seeds).
- the human cost There is a lot of evidence linking the cotton industry to the slave trade.
- Claims of forced labour and child labour at different stages of the process persist as a major problem for the industry.
- However, the International Labor Organization claims that they have successfully eliminated forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton fields.
- Farmers in nations like Brazil and Central and West Africa face difficulties as a result of the cheap costs of cotton imported from the United States thanks to government subsidies.
- The absence of potentially harmful chemicals from organic cotton is only one of its many advantages.
- Wearing organic cotton is good for your health and the health of the farmers who produce it.
- By switching to organic cotton, whose seeds are cheaper than those of Bt cotton, farmers might escape the debt and poverty that keeps them there.
- More so, you, the farmers, and the ecosystem would all benefit from less pesticide use.
- Considering that it remains unclear how the cotton is processed and transformed into garments, it is vital to make sure that enterprises that use organic cotton also have solid labour regulations in place.
- Adidas, ASOS, H&M, and Burberry are just few of the labels represented here.
- It's encouraging to see growing demand for cotton produced using methods that reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of industrial farming.
- The garment industry is changing in a more sustainable and moral direction, and new technologies are emerging to help businesses monitor the sources of their cotton. One such method is blockchain.
- Bext360, a blockchain startup, has attracted the support of several major fashion corporations, including C&A, PVH Corp., and Kering, as well as philanthropic organisations like Fashion For Good and the C&A Foundation.
- Businesses will be able to know the full story behind the cotton used in their products and whether or not it was produced in an ethical manner with the help of this project.
- The UP guide to sustainable cotton is an excellent resource for anyone interested in this topic, as it was compiled by a group of organisations with the objective of expanding the global adoption of sustainable cotton.
- Users may learn about and evaluate the environmental and labour rights policies of various brands with the help of the Good On You app and Directory.
- It's not hard to choose sustainable materials for the duration of the production process provided you know what certifications to search for.
- Fair trade and the Global Organic Textile Standard are just two.
- Cotton cannot be grown endlessly, and the reasons why are explained.
- However, most of the problems that threaten cotton's long-term viability have their roots in places other than the fields themselves.
- Transporting cotton bales from the fields to the textile mills and beyond requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources.
- Despite decades of environmental mismanagement, cotton still has the capacity to reach its sustainable goals.
- Organic cotton is much better for the environment because it is harvested and processed in a more sustainable way.
- Organic cotton uses 91% less fresh water and 33% less energy to process than conventional cotton, according to a life cycle analysis conducted by PE International in 2016.
- Farmers who would rather grow cotton using organic methods frequently find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to conventional farms.
- As a result, many groups working to protect the environment have called for more stringent regulations on the ethical production of cotton.
- Others are more concerned with the environmental benefits, while some prioritise addressing the industry's socioeconomic concerns through sustainability.
- If cotton is to be truly sustainable, it may be necessary to pursue both of these strategies.