Thinking about buying organic cotton? You might want to know the truth about bio textile before buying organic. Most of us want to buy products that are safe for the environment and for the body. Organic food makes a lot of sense. What about organic clothing? What is organic cotton and is it so much better than normal cotton?
What is Organic Cotton
Cotton is a very popular and widely used fabric for clothing. Cotton is used in jeans, T-shirts, jumpers, shirts, underwear, etc. It does have amazing properties such as strength, easy care and breathability. Cotton is harvested from the cotton plant bolls. It is then processed and combed into yarn. To make various fabrics, that yarn is woven together then used to make clothing. But cotton production is actually very harmful to the environment and to the farmers that grows it. Cotton has many disadvantages such as very high water consumption, heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides.
That is why organic cotton has become more and more popular in recent years. Organic cotton is grown without any use of irrigation water, synthetic fertilizer, or pesticides. Certain species of insects are used as natural pesticides. And to get a certified organic cultivation, the organic cotton seed has to be GMO free. Although increasingly popular, only a tiny portion of cotton grown around the world is organic.
Keep in mind that “organic” is a very potent marketing tool. There are many clothing brands that shout their use of organic agricultural products to show their fight to reduced the fashion industry’s environmental impact. As consumers, we want products that are better for us and the planet. That is why organic cotton seems like a good alternative. But in reality, it is not that simple.
The truth about organic cotton and bio textile in general is that they may have actually used up more resources to produce than normal cotton. It would result in a much greater overall impact on the environment.
Where Organic Cotton Comes From
Organic cotton is generally is grown organically in parts of the USA, but also in subtropical countries such as India, Turkey, China. Made from non-genetically modified plants, without any use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides to preserve biodiversity and agricultural cycles.
In 2018, the biggest producers of organic cotton were following countries: India (51%), China (19%), Turkey (7%) and Kyrgyzstan (7%).
Also in Africa, there are some countries producing organic cotton, at least 8 countries. The first country producing organic cotton in Africa was Egypt starting in 1990. The conversion of 400,000 hectares of conventional cotton production to organic drastically reduced the use of pesticides and increased yields.
India, China, Turkey, Pakistan, Brazil, Greece, Australia, Syria, Mali also started producing organic cotton at some point due to rising demand.
Usually, chemicals used in the processing of cotton pollute the air and surface waters. To label and sell a product as "organic", any producer must meet very strict standards.
The Standards for Organic Cotton and Bio Textile
There are many different standards that check organic production in the cotton industry. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria. This certification is awarded after verifying a wide range of criteria. It also guarantees fair social conditions at the production facilities.
Before buying any organic cotton clothing, look for the GOTS certification. It is one of the best way to make sure that cotton in the product has been grown to organic standards.
Another way of identifying organic cotton, after checking for the GOTS symbol, is looking for the Soil Association symbol or the Organic Exchange symbol.
A product certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard by Soil Association Certification Ltd. will get the Soil Association symbol. The Soil Association is a quarter owner of Global Standard GmbH, which manages the GOTS, and was a founder member of GOTS.
A product tracked and traced along the supply chain by an independent, third party gets the OE100 symbol. It means that it contains 100% certified organic cotton fibre, but hasn’t necessarily been processed to organic standards.
Other trustworthy certificates include the Fair Wear Foundation, and the KBA (certified organic agriculture). These ensure higher quality of fabric while also considering some socio-economic aspects of production. Other certificates and eco-labels remain uncertain.
Ecological Footprint of Organic CottonCotton production uses 10-16% of the world's pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants). The environmental consequences are huge. Orthophosphates such as phorate and methamidophos, endosulfan and aldicarb are common pesticides used in the production of conventional cotton as well as Trifluralin, Toxaphene and DDT.
For organic cotton production, the use of mechanical or biological methods to slow spoilage is allowed. But the use of volatile synthetic solvents in processed products or any ingredient is prohibited. Converting fields from conventional to organic cotton requires testing to verify no residual pesticide for 3 years. Natural insect repellents extracted from plants are allowed. Research is undergoing to find new eco-friendly ways to remove harmful pesticides and decrease pest population.
No toxic chemicals should be used in the growing of organic cotton. It should not damage the soil, have less impact on the air, use less water and less energy. This is very important to keep farmers and their families safe. Eliminating exposition to toxic chemicals in the field, food and water supply is a top priority. Cotton is often grown in water-scarce areas using irrigation, taking 2700 liters of water to make a conventional cotton t-shirt.
Buy organic cotton to fight for water conservation, cleaner air, better soil and farmer livelihoods. Save water, energy and carbon emissions. The price may be higher. But with rising demand, more choices will become available. This is a long-term effort to conserve the fertility of soils, retain the purity of drinking water and the balance of the eco-system.
At Panaprium, we make caring for the world and the people a life choice. We promote a healthy lifestyle for all. We want to contribute to social good and make an impact in the world helping people. We are committed to green and natural living, health and wellness.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.