When people think about organic cotton they tend to think about a niche market for tree huggers and hippie types.
But until last century all cotton was grown in an organic fashion.
It is only recently that we started pumping the earth full of chemicals in order increase agricultural yields. In millenia gone by whenever we wanted to increase production we would just expand geographically, cut down a little more forest and plant some crops.
That tactic has worked as long as there was more space. But in the 20th century we ran out of room on the planet for the first time in human history. So to increase production we used a variety of chemicals to pump higher yields out of our existing landbase. Nobody had our health in their best interests. It was all about producing more and making more money.
This whole practice is not only unsustainable but it has serious effects on human health.
It's all very well to talk about organic cotton. But to truly understand the benefits of organic it is necessary for you to understand just how chemically enhanced regular cotton is.
The amount of chemicals used in the production of regular cotton is staggering. In the year 2000 there were 14.4 million acres of cotton being grown in the United States. 84 millions pounds of pesticides were used on those fields, along with 2 billion pounds of fertilizers.
Those 84 million pounds of pesticides were made up of 15 different varieties. 7 of those 15 were deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency to be either possible, likely, probable or known human carcinogens. They are:
I don't know about you but I think that's scary stuff! I wore cotton clothing and slept in cotton bedding for my entire childhood.
The problem is not just the harmful effects that chemically grown cotton fabric and bedding has on our skin. The hidden problem is that a significant proportion of cotton grown never becomes textiles, it goes into our food supply.
Only 35% of a cotton harvest is actually turned into fabric. 60% of the harvest is the seed, which is what the white fluffy stuff grows around. We don't just discard this seed. We process it into cottonseed oil. This oil is heavily used in processed foods and it contains high levels of herbicides and pesticides. The remaining 5%, the leaves, stems and other waste is often fed to livestock, further contaminating our food supply with chemicals.
The chemicals we use in our farming also enter the food chains of other animals, especially birds, fish and insects. Run off from cotton farms enters nearby waterways, polluting and destroying ecosystems.
At present it is estimated that 200 species of plant and animal are becoming extinct every single day due to human activity. This is the highest rate of extinction since the dinosaurs, and the only time a mass extinction has ever been caused by an individual species.
Obviously cotton farms are not the sole destroyers. It is a combination of deforestation, overfishing, intensive agriculture and heavy chemical use. But cotton is right up there with the worst of the worst. Cotton alone is responsible for using 25% of the world's insecticides and 10% of the world's herbicides.
There is one difference between conventional cotton and organic cotton. One difference only. That is the chemicals. Everything else about organic cotton is just as good as regular cotton. It is just as smooth, just as comfortable and just as durable. But much healthier.
The one bad thing about organic cotton - it does cost a little more than the chemical version. That's because it doesn't enjoy the same government subsidies and economies of scale that the conventional stuff does. But as the industry grows it will become more economically feasible to grow cotton chemical free.
Things are moving in a positive direction. Intelligent consumers like you are concerned by the negative effects of globalization and corporatism, especially when it comes to food and products like cotton.
People trust their local farmer much more than they trust a corporate agribusiness giant. Now that we are beginning to realise this, and starting to see that maximizing production isn't in everybody's best interests the world is starting to move in a different direction.
We are starting to appreciate sustainability and consumers are concerned that their products are ethically made. This bodes well for the future of organic cotton, which is a high quality product that is good for farmers, for consumers and for the environment, all without the harmful toxins.