Header image sourced from WWF
We all know about buying organic food and organic cleaning products, but shouldn’t we know about organic materials and fabrics in our wardrobe? This is something that I have constantly wondered since starting Ethically Engaged, and figured that you might just be wondering this too!
Most of us have an item of clothing made of cotton, whether that be a shirt, pants or a hoodie. Half of the world’s clothing is made from cotton. It is one of the most common clothing fabrics used, yet most of us do not realise the severe impact it has on the environment around us.
For 1Kg of regular cotton (enough to make 1 t-shirt and jeans), it can use over 5,000 gallons of water to grow! Additionally, 2.4% of the worlds crop land accounts for cotton, and 24% of the sale of insecticides and 10% of the world pesticides. Agricultural chemicals used to grow cotton have a major impact on the health of farmers and workers involved in the production of this.
It is still very common to find young children and teenagers employed in cotton processing mills and cotton production. A startling example is Uzbekistan. Every year the government forcibly closes down schools and sends children to pick cotton in the pesticide contaminated fields. These forced labour conditions have claimed the lives of many innocent Uzbek citizens.
Some Alarming Facts Of Non-organic Cotton Production
- In California, five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton are cancer causing chemicals. These are cyanazine, dicofol, naled, propargite and trifluralin.
- More than 50% of cotton workers in the 1990s in Egypt suffered symptoms of chronic pesticide poisoning, including neurological and vision disorders.
- 91% of male cotton workers in India who are exposed to pesticides eight hours or more per day have or are experiencing some type of health disorder, including chromosomal aberrations, cell death and parkinsons.
- A 1987 National Cancer Institute Study uncovered almost 7 times higher risk of leukemia for children with parents who used pesticides in their homes or gardens.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) predict that at least 3 million people are poisoned by pesticides every year and an additional 20-40,000 more are killed.
Not only this, cotton farming with tremendous amounts of water, pesticide and insecticide input is destroying many ecosystems such as the Aral Sea. It was once the world’s fourth largest body of inland water and has now shrunk on a large-scale.
Organic Cotton has many advantages. Organic clothing manufacturers do not add petroleum scours, formaldehyde, anti-wrinkling agents, chlorine bleaches, or any other unnatural materials, so it is hypoallergenic and 100% eco friendly. Natural spinning oils, potato starch and earth clays are all natural alternatives to the toxic chemicals used in regular cotton manufacturing.
In Peru, cotton farmers have been able to save well over $100 per acre in pesticide and fertilizer costs by moving to organic production.
What Can You Do?
Buying Organic Cotton clothing instead of regular cotton is one of the best things you can do to make your t-shirt much more sustainable. In most cases, an Organic Cotton shirt is more expensive than a non-organic shirt, although the fabric in the Organic variety will last much longer and by purchasing Organic Cotton you are voting with you dollar and supporting farmers around the world. Please not that a number of brands offer organic options, however many have misled consumers. You can read about some of these scandals here
- Ask clothing brands and retailers about their cotton clothing. Is it organic?
- Buy from companies with a good environmental track record and which you trust to not be misleading
- Reuse cotton fabric by buying used or repurposing your old clothing. I have seen many DIY cotton tote bags made from old cotton t-shirts etc.
- Buy Organic Cotton certified clothing. This covers the entire process from seed to garment.