Natural, vegan and biodegradable, cotton has all the credentials to become a sustainable fabric. Does it, though? Unfortunately, this seemingly-harmless fluffy fibre has actually got a terrible environmental footprint. Crazy, we know!
Let us tell you a bit more about why cotton is bad for the environment and what problems it causes, but don’t worry: we have a positive, sustainable solution waiting for you at the end of the article.
The problems of cotton production: why is cotton bad for the environment?
Conventionally-grown cotton is bad for the environment because of its high water consumption and pollution, soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, and use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers.
Since cotton is such a popular crop, it uses around 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of all insecticides, which is more than any other crop. Extremely harmful to the environment, they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and pollute thousands of litres of drinkable water. As found by the World Health Organization, the most common insecticides used in cotton production even include three of the most hazardous chemicals! These toxic substances result in health risks for cotton farmers and inhabitants of nearby villages, and their use has been causing an increase in miscarriages, malformations and cancer in those areas. Basically, not only is cotton bad for the environment: its production is also unethical.
Water usage and pollution
The pollution caused by fertilisers and pesticides isn’t the only way in which cotton production affects water. This fibre requires it in high amounts: unfortunately, natural rains aren’t enough. It takes a whole 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton t-shirt. Let that sink in! The fact that such high volumes of water are directed to cotton farms takes them away from natural sources, people and other agricultural uses. The consequences are dire: for example, the Aral Sea has shrunk by 85% after decades of cotton production!
Another problem of cotton production is its extensive use of land, converting large habitats to agricultural use. Such high quantities of water also result in soil salinisation, meaning that other plants will struggle or fail to grow there.
The biodegradability issue
While they can’t serve as food for other plants, the fluffy fibres that form cotton bolls are fully biodegradable and compostable. Yay! However, if treated with certain chemicals or mixed with synthetic materials like it usually happens in fast fashion, they lose this sustainable property. Ouch.
So what’s the solution? Stop buying cotton garments? Heck no! Let us introduce you to sustainable cotton, ladies and gentlemen.
Sustainable cotton: an ethical, organic solution
Grown using materials and methods that lower its impact on the environment, organic cotton is a fantastic sustainable alternative to commonly-grown crops. These eco-friendly production systems focus on maintaining soil fertility and don’t involve any toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and harmful chemicals. This also removes the risk of allergies (anyone can wear organic cotton garments!), and hints that they’re probably synonymous with ethical cotton: farmers aren’t forced to deal with hazardous chemicals and are usually paid fair wages. There are various third-party initiatives to ensure that these farms are actually sustainable, with the most famous being GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard).
Cotton is a fantastic versatile fibre that can be used for many different products, from clothes to towels, and several types of other fabrics, such as corduroy, denim and flannel. It’s vegan, delightfully soft and, when 100% natural, completely biodegradable. Let’s just make sure that we buy it from eco-friendly and ethical sources. You can shop hundreds of organic cotton garments from the best sustainable brands in our women and men sections
It’s time to cut out the bad fluff from our wardrobes!
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Project Cece is a platform that collects ethical clothing from different webshops on one website. Take a look in our shopping section and find the clothing that fits your style, budget and values!