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Organic cotton vs cotton

by Millicent Hofung |

Cotton is a staple when it comes to the fashion industry. Cotton makes up one third of global textile production and as a result, the most widely used material in the apparel industry. There’s a common misconception that by purchasing clothing made from cotton, you’re making an eco-friendly choice considering the fiber’s natural, renewable and biodegradable characteristics. However, there are strong environmental and social impacts that conventionally grown cotton has on the people involved in the process and planet (from start to finish).

 

Conventional cotton

Cotton is a fiber naturally derived from the cotton plant — meaning that inherently the plant itself is renewable and biodegradable. But conventional cotton production requires the use of toxic chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, GMOs) that are harmful to the people and planet that come in contact with the fiber. It also often remains on garments as residues throughout its lifecycle.

 

What is organic cotton?

Organic materials and products (including clothing and food) are those that are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, additives or pesticides and are not genetically modified. Less than 1% of cotton grown globally is organic. The popularity of conventional cotton comes from its ease of growth due to use of genetically modified seeds and toxic chemicals that help the plant to grow and effectively result in higher yields of the crop. When it comes to organic cotton, look for third party certifications to ensure that you are actually purchasing the organic kind. One of the most popular certifications include GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). This ensures that from seed to finished product, the garment meets GOTS’s environmental and social standards.

 

How organic cotton is sustainable.

Is organic cotton better than “regular” cotton? Here’s what chemicals are used in: 

 Conventional cotton Organic cotton

Toxic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides used to grow conventional cotton

  • Aldicarb
  • Parathion
  • Methamidopho
  • Acephate
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Monocrotophos
  • Profenofos
  • Cypermethrin
  • Deltamethrin
  • Cyhalothrin
  • Imidacloprid
  • Thiamethoxam
  • Acetamiprid
  • Glyphosate

Synthetic chemicals used in processing conventional cotton

  • Formaldehyde
  • Ammonia
  • Silicone waxes
  • Petroleum scours
  • Heavy metals
  • Flame retardants

Zero! 

 

Cotton is one thirsty crop...

A t-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2,168 gallons of water whereas one made from organic cotton only requires 186 gallons of water. That’s over 90% water savings! The main watering options to grow cotton include rainfall and irrigation. Conventional cotton utilizes extensive irrigation that depletes groundwater and creates runoff of harmful chemicals (such as pesticides) used. By relying on natural rainfall to water organic cotton crops, it doesn’t require the diversion of limited water sources towards cotton farming and results in a more efficient use of water.

 

Avoid the use of harmful chemicals...

The list of “-cides” used in conventional agriculture are endless, including pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and beyond. Harmful chemicals can also be introduced throughout the production process of a garment and consider the fact that 70% of US cotton seeds are GMO. These toxic chemicals enter waterways as runoff and can pollute our ecosystems. The contaminated water is soaked up by plants and ingested by wildlife, threatening biodiversity and the natural environment, and can have a hazardous effect on humans that come in contact with it as well. Whether you’re cultivating the crops, sewing the material or wearing the garment, repeated exposure can result in rashes or even more serious and life-threatening health problems (cancer, reproductivity issues, etc.). The production of conventional cotton can result in pollution of ecosystems and degradation of the environment including reduced soil fertility and loss of biodiversity.

 

The production of organic cotton doesn’t require the use of any toxic chemicals from start to finish, minimizing impact on the environment and individuals that come in contact with the natural fiber.

 

Minimize CO2 emissions…

Organic cotton contributes 46% less CO2 emissions than conventional cotton. This is due to its use of crop rotation techniques that will naturally sequester carbon and refrain it from entering the atmosphere. Not only is crop rotation better for the soil and the farmers involved, it uses 62% less energy too!

 

Meet more ethical standards...

The production and cultivation of organic cotton creates a safer environment for everyone involved. It’s handpicked as to avoid the effects that dangerous machinery and toxic chemicals could have on workers. Since the crops are not treated with harmful chemicals, everyone that comes in contact with the fiber (that includes the wearer!) can avoid exposure to carcinogens and harsh additives (ammonia, formaldehyde, petroleum, phthalates, etc.). This all goes hand-in-hand with fair trade standards. By maintaining high standards that avoid the use of harsh chemicals or produce excessive waste, we can be kinder to the environment.

 

More comfortable for the skin…

Cotton is naturally hypoallergenic, and with organic cotton avoiding the use of additional synthetic chemicals, we can keep it that way. Even the most sensitive skin types (and body parts!) can avoid adverse skin reactions like itchiness and rashes. Without the presence of harmful chemicals, the cotton fibers have a better ability to breathe —⁠ allowing the wearer to be the most comfortable.

 

Why do we love organic cotton?

At KENT, we’re not just big fans of organic cotton but organic pima cotton to create our organic cotton underwear. Organic cotton plays the biggest role in making our underwear super comfortable, breathable and durable. And because we don’t add any chemicals along the way, our organic underwear can return back to the soil as a resource rather than end up in landfill (to do only good and never pollute).