Reasons for Choosing Organic Cotton
At first blush, the idea of organic cotton might sound a bit over-the-top. Organic food is one thing. We eat food, and it’s easy to see why people don’t want to eat food sprayed with pesticides. We usually don’t think about eating cotton, although a surprising number of foods contain ingredients made with this plant. But there are many reasons for considering buying organic cotton clothing and other products.
Cotton is a popular, versatile, and comfortable fabric used to make everything from denim to velvet to tee-shirts. And as much cotton as the world uses, this crop only takes up 2.5 percent of all cultivated cropland, but it uses as much as 25 percent of all agriculturally applied pesticides.
Organic Cotton Reduces Pollution and Environmental Damage
The average tee-shirt weighs about five ounces, but it takes as much as one-third of a pound of pesticides to grow that small amount of cotton with conventional agricultural methods. Also, the pesticides used on cotton crops are especially toxic and include several chemicals banned in other countries.
Organic cotton growers control pests in several ways: by planting pest-resistant cotton varieties; by introducing beneficial insects that are predators of the pest species; by seasonally rotating crops to new fields to avoid a build-up of pests in the soil. They also make limited use of organically acceptable natural pesticides, which are less harmful to the environment than their synthetic counterparts.
Cotton also needs plenty of fertilizer, and the synthetic fertilizers used on most farms are highly concentrated, creating problems of run-off leading to algae blooms in waterways. Organic cotton growers add nutrients to the soil using less concentrated source materials than synthetic fertilizers, including composted manures, cover crops residues, and slow release forms of organic fertilizer made from feathers, cottonseed meal, and bone meal.
Growing cotton organically helps reduce pollution from pesticide and fertilizer run-off and protects other species in the environment – including humans.
Organic Cotton is Healthier for Farmers and Consumers
When you purchase organic cotton clothing and other cotton products, you are also supporting healthier work and living places for farmers, farm workers, farm families, and people living in farming communities. These benefits extend to retail workers in stores selling cotton fabric and even to the health of the consumer.
While pesticide residues do not usually make it into a finished cotton product, the dyes and finishing chemicals used in the manufacture of non-organic and synthetic fabrics can be toxic to the user, especially children. Synthetic materials also shed long-lasting microscopic fibers which can irritate the skin or wash out into the environment. These chemicals are prohibited in organic production, so choosing organic cotton clothing eliminates these health concerns.
Organic Cotton Conserves Water
Because organic farmers spend a lot of time improving the soil by adding compost and other organic material, the soil is then better at retaining moisture. This is one reason organic cotton farmers use an average of 20 percent less water to grow their crops than conventional cotton farms.
Another way organic cotton saves water is during manufacturing. The amount of cotton in a pair of jeans requires as much as 1,800 gallons of water when its processed. Much of this water is needed for the toxic dyes and finishes used on non-organic cotton clothing. Organic cotton clothing is made without the use of these harsh chemicals, resulting in less water use during the manufacturing process.
Organic Cotton in Our Food
While you can’t eat cotton balls, many cotton byproducts are used in food production. For example, cottonseed oil is used in shortenings and is a source for vitamin E. Cottonseed meal is used as feed for livestock, and cotton cellulose is widely used as a thickener and stabilizer in many processed foods.
When you purchase organic cotton clothing and other organic cotton products, you are also helping to boost the supply of organic cottonseed oil, cottonseed meal, and cellulose as a byproduct for use in organic foods.
Next time you consider buying a cotton tee-shirt or other garment, keep in mind the many benefits of choosing organic cotton, and remember, you are what you wear!