Purchasing certified organic products is one of the most beneficial steps we can take for our health and the health of our planet. While many of us opt for organic when buying food for our families, it’s easy to forget that the conventional agricultural practices we seek to avoid in our food system are also present in the textile industry.
Cotton is one of the top-selling fabrics in the United States, but when conventionally grown, it can also be one of the most problematic.
When it comes to conventional cotton, the concern is multifaceted. Cotton is the most heavily chemically treated crop in the world and is often treated with Chlorpyrifos, a harmful chemical insecticide. Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate, banned in residential usage but still permitted for use in agriculture. This overused insecticide has been blamed for poisoning hundreds of thousands of farmers and it runs off into our groundwater when sprayed on crops. Chemically grown cotton is also frequently Genetically Engineered to withstand Glyphosate herbicide, which has recently been declared to be a probable cancer-causing agent.
Processing cotton can have a serious environmental impact as well.
The chemical-laden plant fiber must be washed and rinsed using close to four hundred gallons of water to produce just one conventional tee shirt. This releases pesticides and other chemicals into our water system. High water usage related to conventional cotton production contributed to the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan going 80% dry. It was once one of the larger bodies of water on the planet and a big cotton growing area. Synthetic fibers are no better as their production also releases many toxins including tiny plastic particles that end up causing problems to struggling fish populations.
Fortunately, organic cotton production is a far more sustainable solution and has seen a surge of growth in 2017 and 2018, with more and more of India’s fields converting to organic.
Organic cotton production utilizes beneficial insects and physical traps and lures to manage pests, instead of using harmful chemical pesticides that can degrade soil and negatively affect human health. Organic cotton is typically grown in smaller producer groups, allowing for better quality of life and control of their lands. Additionally, organic cotton farming has been assessed to have a 46% reduction in global warming, 70% less acidification of land and water and 91% less water consumption overall. Even when buying organic cotton, it’s important to seek out garments made with low-impact dyes and minimal processing. As more brands make the switch, converting our wardrobes to organic and natural materials will become easier.