The Complete Beginner's Guide to Organic Cotton
Cotton is a natural, plant-based fiber. A cottonseed is planted in the soil, eventually growing and yielding a fluffy white protective case that surrounds the seed. This protective case is the cotton fiber that ends up in our clothing, towels, bed sheets, and more. Overall, cotton is found in 40% of our clothing. It is the second most common fiber behind polyester, which is used in 52% of our clothes. Among natural fibers, cotton is by far the most widely used, accounting for 90% of natural fibers in textiles.
- In 2014, the world produced 28.5 million tons of cotton. Even though the use of synthetic materials is expected to grow, cotton is still projected to be the second most commonly used fiber in 2030.
- Almost all of the world’s cotton, 99.3% of it to be exact, is grown chemically, through farming methods that rely on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and/or genetically modified seeds.
- Cotton is grown on 2.4% of the world’s cropland, yet it accounts for 10% of pesticide use and 25% of insecticide use globally.
- In the developing world, cotton alone accounts for half of all insecticide use.
- In the US, 90% of cotton crops receive nitrogen-based fertilizer, and cotton is the 4th largest pesticide-consuming crop, following corn, soybeans and potatoes.
- This heavy chemical reliance implicates cotton in freshwater and ocean water pollution, harmful algae blooms, the loss of marine wildlife, and soil degradation.
Cotton is so widespread for good reason—it has many great characteristics that make it well suited for use in our clothing. It is soft, strong, comfortable, and absorbent. It looks goods, washes well, and retains color over time. How can we reconcile the things we love about cotton with its environmental and social impact?
The most conscious cotton option available at the moment is certified organic cotton. This means that the cotton is grown without synthetic chemical inputs- starting with seeds that are not genetically modified and then without using chemical pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers in the farming process. Instead, organic farmers rely on traditional farming methods that have been used for thousands of years to help plants grow, including mixed farming, crop rotation, no-till or conservation till farming. Additionally, organic farming practices are centered on promoting soil health, and healthy soil is able to retain water and sequester carbon at a much greater rate than unhealthy soil. In the process of all of this, cotton farmers aren’t exposed to toxic chemicals.
Compared with chemical cotton, on average, organic cotton uses less water, has a lower carbon footprint, uses significantly less energy, and doesn’t pollute water with synthetic chemicals. Although when it comes to water consumption, many factors bear on whether and how much water organic cotton really saves. And a lot of that depends on factors specific to the farm, including how much rain falls on the cotton crops, the health of the soil, and the farmers’ understanding of water management techniques.
It’s important to note that organic cotton isn’t the end all solution to chemicals in your clothes. The dyeing and finishing processes used in the fashion industry relies heavily on toxic chemicals, including hazardous dyes and heavy metals, among others. , It’s no use having an organic cotton t-shirt that’s been subjected to a chemical bath. For this reason, certifications, like the Global Organic Textile Standard provide an important way to ensure that the chemical processes your cotton has been exposed to after the farm are safe for your health.
Finally, we always recommend supporting companies that are transparent about the source of their cotton. If you are buying from a brand that doesn’t mention anything about where their cotton comes from, ask them!
What do you think? Can we wear our cotton and feel good about it too?
How much organic cotton is grown globally?
According to the 2011 Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Farm & Fiber Report, approximately 151,079 metric tons (MT) of organic cotton (693,900 bales) were grown on 324,577 hectares (802,047 acres) in 2010-2011. Organic cotton now equals 0.7 percent of global cotton production.
Organic cotton was grown in 20 countries worldwide in 2010-11, led by India, and including (in order of rank): Syria, China, Turkey, United States, Tanzania, Egypt, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Pakistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Paraguay, Israel, Tajikistan, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Senegal. Approximately 219,000 farmers grew the fiber.
What is the value of the global organic cotton market?
According to a report by Textile Exchange 2010 Global Market Report on Sustainable Textiles, global sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated $5.16 billion in 2010. This reflects a 20 percent increase from the 2009 market. Companies reported significant growth in their organic cotton programs, and increased adoption of standards. Approximately 219,000 farmers grew the fiber.
How much organic cotton is grown in the United States?
U.S. organic cotton production continues to increase, encouraged by consumer and corporate demand, price premiums, and regulatory shifts that facilitate clear labeling for organic cotton products. According to an OTA survey of U.S. organic cotton production undertaken with funding from Cotton Incorporated, the number of acres planted with organic cotton in the U.S. increased 36 percent from 2009-2010, while bales harvested were up nearly 24 percent. U.S. producers harvested 11,262 acres of organic cotton in 2010, representing 95 percent of planted acres, and yielding 13,279 bales.
While 2011 saw the largest number of acres planted since 1999, harvested acres and bales are expected to be down by 38 and 45 percent, respectively, due to a devastating drought in the southern Plains. In fact, the extremely dry conditions in Texas forced farmers there to abandon more than 65 percent of their planted crop in 2011. A modest acreage gain of two percent is forecast for 2012, bringing plantings of U.S. organic cotton to 16,406 acres. Another two percent net gain is in the five-year forecast, bringing the total to 16,716 acres. Opportunity exists for significant expansion of U.S. organic acreage, most likely in nascent organic cotton-growing regions such as North Carolina, which harvested its first crop of organic cotton in 2011.
How fast is the organic fiber market growing?
In 2011, organic fiber sales in the United States grew by 17.1 percent over the previous year, to reach $708 million, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey. The future looks promising, with organic fiber products appearing in more mainstream outlets, led by large and small U.S. textile retailers alike.
Why Penguin Organics have selected Turkish Organic cotton?
Organic cotton farming is moving up the organic farming agenda of many countries. Textile Exchange data shows that in 2012 Turkey ranks second in organic cotton production in the World. Across Turkey, the Aegean Region and the Southeast Anatolia Region are the leaders. Factors such as suitable climate and soil conditions, relatively low populations of disease vectors and pests, historically low use of chemicals, availability of a young population employable in organic farming and the high quality of cotton varieties grown, combine to support the Southeast Anatolia Region as it aims to scale up its organic cotton production volume. Environmentally friendly organic farming is a hallmark of the Southeast Anatolia Region, which is also known as the cradle of sustainable civilizations.
Source: Organic Trade Association
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