When you see images of soft, white, fluffy balls of cotton crops, you may think about how natural and pretty they are.
You probably wouldn’t think that cotton fibre is far from natural and not so good for us.
Cotton is used in such a large range of everyday household items – clothes, towels, bed linen, tableware – and it’s the stuff we don’t see behind the scenes that is hurting us, the farmers and the environment.
Where does it start? Right at the start.
Conventional cotton farming methods start with genetically modified seeds (GM). GM is not permitted in organic agriculture. The seeds are modified with a bacteria that makes the plant produce a pesticide which is supposed to keep bugs from feeding on it. As with any bacteria, pests frequently develop resistance to modern panaceas making it necessary to use more pesticides.
Conventional cotton is grown using the same plot time after time for each crop. Each time, soil quality degrades as nutrients are sucked out and not replaced. The poor soil makes for thirtsy crops and so they are also heavily irrigated. Organic Cotton farms rotate crops, weed by hand and use nutrient rich compost to retain water for longer, therefore using less water. Also, when it comes to harvest time, it’s done naturally with freezing temperatures or managed water techniques and not inducing defoliation with chemicals.
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs.
Insect control means lots of chemicals for conventional cotton farming. To put it into perspective, the WWF quotes that only 2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively. Organic farmers correct the imbalance with beneficial insects that hunt down and kill cotton pests.
All major processing stages along the cotton chain such as dyeing, bleaching and finishing, use a large amount of chemicals. These include:
- heavy metals
- chemical dyes (azo dyes release carcinogenic compounds)
- formaldehyde (its use is now largely restricted)
These end up in waste water and there is even some residue on completed end products. This is why cotton clothes are a prime suspect in skin allergies and that you will find organic cotton clothing is beneficial for eczema and other skin irritations, not to mention ensuring baby is safe and not exposed to any harmful toxins.
The main differences in preparing the cotton to be made into fabric are:
- using a safe peroxide for whitening
- scouring with soda to get a PH close to pure water and
- the use of low impact or water based dyes.
How does it end?
In terms of organic cotton clothes, you are presented with soft, eco-friendly, hypoallergenic products, that are great for you and great for the environment.
The benefits you can’t see?
- Water conservation. The WWF quotes that it takes 20,000 litres of water to make one kilogram of conventional cotton which is the equivalent of one t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
- Less chemicals being used. Nearly a quarter of the world’s insecticide sales is for cotton.
- Saving delicate ecosystems and the people who live amongst them
- Fair wages and treatment of workers in the supply chain
Bamboo is another sustainable option for organic clothing with even more health benefits.
You can read more about the health, social and environment standards, criterias and procedures required for the production of organic cotton textiles at the GOTs (Global Organic Textile Standard) website.
Here at Bamboo Lulu we search extensively to source the best organic products with the highest organic composition. For example, our bamboo bibs and face washers have organic cotton print in lieu of regular cotton print to enhance their organic integrity.
You can download a summary here.