"Fashion is the world's second most polluting industry, second only to oil"
- Danish Fashion Institute
There are a lot of preconceptions about the products we buy, the clothes we wear and the foods we eat. Often we are unaware of how we as individuals are impacting people’s lives and the environment we live in, which means that many of us are unconsciously fuelling the problems. One of the biggest of the world’s polluters comes from something as simple and as common as cotton. We put cotton next to our skin because it breathes, absorbs and offers comfort. Cotton also has a reputation for being pure and the best fabric for children to wear.
However, most cotton goods sold today don't deserve that natural reputation. During cotton production and processing, lots of unnatural and highly hazardous chemicals are used.
Cotton is one of the most intensively sprayed field crops in the world - accounting for more than 10 percent of pesticide use and nearly 23 percent of agricultural insecticide sales worldwide. According to a Pesticide Action Network statistic, it takes about one fourth of a pound of chemicals just to make one cotton t-shirt, and two-thirds of a pound to make a pair of jeans.
"Pesticides are poison. They have been linked to long-term health problems - particularly lethal for vulnerable, developing country farmers - and to the decline of vital insect pollinators which are crucial to our way of life."
At least 8000 chemicals are used to turn raw material into textiles and 25% of the world’s pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton. This causes irreversible damage to people and the environment.
The effects of this overuse of chemicals on the environment and human health are alarming. For example, pesticide and fertilizer use on cotton has been linked to ground and surface water contamination, and even the pollution of drinking water. And at high enough levels in drinking water, nitrates from nitrogen fertilizer are known to cause methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome," in infants.
Organically grown cotton on the other hand is where farmers work with rather than against nature as the guiding principle. Organic farmers use biologically based rather than chemically dependent growing systems to raise crops.
While many conventional farmers are reacting to the ecological disorder created by monocultures, organic farmers focus on preventing problems before they occur.
Image Courtesy of BiorE India
The truth is, conventional cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world taking around 2,720 litres of water to produce just one t-shirt - the same amount as the average person would drink in three years.
The Organic Difference.
Organic Farming starts with healthy soil. The soil is seen as a living system and not simply a growing medium for plants. Compost, efficient nutrient recycling, frequent crop rotations and cover crops replace synthetic fertilizers to keep the soil healthy and productive.
Organic Farmers have many options to control weeds including: hoes and other mechanical weeding implements, crop rotations, planting several crops together (intercropping), more efficient use of irrigation water, the use of mulches, and even adjusting the planting dates and densities of their crops.
By encouraging biological diversity, farmers create conditions which reduce the likelihood of any insect, bird or mammal doing any major damage to their crop. To control pests, organic farmers may use beneficial predator insects, crop rotations, intercropping, and biological pesticides such as neem oil.
Manufacturing organic cotton:
At each manufacturing step, organic clothing manufacturers do not add petroleum scours, formaldehyde, antiwrinkling agents, chlorine bleaches, or other unauthentic materials. Natural alternatives such as natural spinning oils that biodegrade easily are used to facilitate spinning; potato starch is used for sizing; hydrogen peroxide is used for bleaching; organic color grown cottons and low-impact dyes and earth clays are used for coloration; and natural vegetable and mineral inks and binders are used for printing on organic cotton fabric. These natural alternatives are used to reduce and eliminate the toxic consequences found in conventional cotton fabric manufacturing.
Source: Edward Menezes - associated with Rossari Biotech, Mumbai
Did you know?
Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilisers, build biologically diverse agriculture and promote balance of ecosystems.