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Why Organic Textiles: Cotton and Pesticides

We are familiar with the importance of organic milk and foods as better products for well living; however, what about organic textiles?

At some point of our lives, we forget that cotton is also grown on the farm–meaning they impact our lives just as much.

Cotton is major component in apparel and home textiles. Unfortunately, a lot of chemicals are used in the agriculture and processing of cotton as well. It is estimated that cotton covers 2.5% of the cultivated land and uses 16% of the world’s pesticide.  That is a lot considering the world consumption of cotton is about 54,000,000,000 lbs in 2016 (1). Imagine the repercussions  that large amount of pesticides used. Where does it all go?

It is going into the air, the waters, rivers, oceans, even percolating towards the ground, the cotton itself that goes in our bed, our bodies, etc. It affects everyone.

It can have short-term impacts (such as headaches, nausea), chronic impact (cancer and reproductive harm), and acute dangers (nerve, eye, skin irritation and damage, headaches, systemic poisoning). (2)

Chemicals are also used during processing: bleach, acids, phenols, silicon waxes, harsh petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia and formaldehyde, to name a few.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers Eight of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton in 2010 in the U.S.  as “possible”, “likely,” “probable,”  or “known” human carcinogens. (3)

Aldicarb, one of best selling insecticide used in cotton fields, can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin. According to the book Assessing The Environmental Impact of Textile and the Clothing Supply Chain by  Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu, Aldicarb is used in 25 countries and 16 states in the US have reported Aldicarb in ground water.

Nitrogen based synthetic fertilizers are used to foster growth contribute to an increase in nitrous oxide emissions which are 300 times worse than Carbon dioxide which is reported to contribute to global warming.  Simply put the effect to chemicals used in cotton processing is several time worst than those contributing to global warming.

NOW …   THE GOOD NEWS.

Many of us have recognized the dangers of conventional cotton from long term economic losses to insurmountable pain and suffering.

Organic cotton is grown using materials and processes that have a low impact on the environment. It is produced without the use of toxic chemicals and  pesticides.  The ferilizers used  carefully selected to have none to minimal impact on the environment.  Even the  genetically engineered seeds are avoided in organic farming.   Organic sheets don’t smell like plastic or formaldehyde.  Making the transition from conventional to organic cotton does not require sacrificing good taste (like sometime claimed in the food industry) .  Organics are as good or if not better in feel and performance.  The chemicals used in bleaching and dyeing are certified to be low impact and toxin free.

Industry has developed standards which are continually upgraded to reduce the toxicity in the process and today’s organic are far superior than the prior decade. Look of companies dedicated to organic process and who have the commitment, dedication and expertise.  Companies making exclusively organic and natural products tend to be a cut above due to prevention of cross chemicals contamination and dedicated processes.

Some opponents of organic cotton claim that the water resources needed to grow organic cotton are higher than conventional cotton. I would disagree with them as the cost of water is not a high as the cost (and pain) of chemicals. Moreover, as organic cotton is becoming more efficient, this disparity is reducing and economic impact is muted.

Is Organic Perfect ?

Organic Textiles products are still evolving.  Though they are softer, last longer than regular bedding product, they are do not have the technological edge in high performance textiles and  certain products lines such as swimwear, fire retardant wear etc.,  So next time you purchase an organic product, have pride and not demand everything under the sun to match conventional textiles. Organic product lines are growing and making a difference for us and the generations to come.