We all love cotton and what is not to love? It is breathable, versatile, comfortable and widely used. At the same time, conventional cotton is also synonymous to pesticides, huge amounts of wastewater and suicides.
The toxic chemicals used to grow conventional cotton are silicone waxes, petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame retardants, glyphosate, ammonia, and formaldehyde. These chemicals do not just hang around the cotton, but get into our air and water and soil, and indirectly into our bodies. There they can cause cancer and developmental and reproductive system damage to name but a few. These toxins are there to stay and trying to wash them out does not get rid of them all.
Bear with me here when it gets a bit sciencey: toxic surfactants called NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) are commonly used as detergents in textile processing. When you wash these clothes, NPEs are released into the water, where they break down into nonylphenols—endocrine-disrupting chemicals that you are exposed to, and then accumulate in the environment via the water supply and are highly toxic to fish and ocean wildlife.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
In 2006 a globally recognized standard was set up through collaboration by leading standard setters with the aim of ensuring the organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labelling in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer. The Global Organic Textile Standard introduced a logo and labelling system which made it visible not only on the shelves of natural textile shops but large-scale retailers and brand dealers as well*.
In India, farmer suicides account for 11.2% of all suicides, most of whom are cotton farmers. The figures in 2017 and 2018 show an average of more than 10 suicides a day. India is an agrarian country with around 70% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Activists and scholars have offered a number of conflicting reasons for farmer suicides, such as high debt burdens, poor government policies, corruption in subsidies, crop failure, public mental health, personal issues and family problems***. Campaigners have blamed the introduction of GMO seeds. Using organic seeds and organic cotton that do not need expensive pesticides are sustainable, can solve part of the problem and can take cotton farmers out of their vicious circle. Also read about No Nasties, an Indian brand that tried to deal with this issue.
Certified organic cotton is grown GMO-free, is never treated with fungicides, synthetic pesticides, or fertilizers, and uses 71 percent less water and 62 percent less energy than conventionally produced cotton (water consumption for organic cotton is 182 liters/kg lint, which is significantly less than that of conventional cotton at 2,120 liters/ kg lint).
The bottom line of all this is: buy organic cotton where you possibly can and preferably from a brand with a sustainable supply chain. They are working hard to make fashion fairer and cleaner and they deserve our support.
For more organic cotton items check this page.