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Not many people know this, but cotton is the most popular fabric worldwide. Cotton can be found in everything around us, from our shoes to our clothes, bedsheets, home décor, and even cottonseed oil. Due to its massive demand, cotton farmers usually resort to artificial production techniques that employ the use of pesticides and chemicals to accelerate cotton growth. This is how regular cotton is produced.
However, with advancements in farming and agricultural technologies, farmers have found an alternative way to grow cotton – one that’s more environmentally friendly and free of harmful chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. With more health and eco-conscious consumers in the market, organic cotton products are rapidly becoming popular and causing a surge in demand.
In this post, we’ll take about the environmental impact of cotton farming and production and share the differences between organic cotton vs. regular cotton.
The Environmental Impact of Non-Organic Cotton Farming and Production
Non-organic cotton is cultivated with the aid of synthetic pesticides that contain harmful chemicals and heavy metals. These pesticides harm the environment as they enter the soil and water, damaging the ecosystem and natural resources with it. Another problem with regular cotton is that it leaves the field unsuitable for growing any other crop so you can imagine the size of the environmental footprint its production leaves just so you can wear a cotton T-Shirt. But that’s not all. Here are the three main ways non-organic cotton farming and production harms the environment:
1. High Water Consumption
Cotton is an extremely thirsty crop that may offer economic benefits but with some environmental and social drawbacks. Cotton production requires a substantial amount of water. According to a report by the World Resources Institute, nearly 60% of the production takes place in countries or regions with water shortages. Most farmers rely on irrigation rather than rainfall for cotton farming, which further stretches the issue.
2. Extreme Chemical Usage
Apart from being a thirsty crop, conventional cotton production uses several chemicals to accelerate the growth. Nearly 4% of all the world’s synthetic chemicals and pesticides are used for cotton farming. These pesticides and insecticides are loaded with toxic chemicals, such as atrazine, neonicotinoids, and boric acid that can contaminate the soil and water. Upon human exposure, these chemicals can potentially lead to cancer, ADHD, and neurological issues, and even birth defects.
3. Social Disruption
Cotton production has been heavily linked with the use of child and forced labor. Human rights activists have documented children as young as 5 working on farms and factories in India, Pakistan, Kyrgystan, and Egypt. Secondly, cotton is a globally traded crop that often faces significant price fluctuations resulting in revenue loss, downsizing, and poor working conditions due to the lack of facilities.
Organic Cotton vs. Regular Cotton – 5 Key Differences
Organic cotton comes from organically grown cotton plants that have not been modified in any way. They are free of toxic fertilizers and pesticides and can be used instead of regular cotton for any use case. However, there are several other differences between organic cotton vs. regular cotton. Let’s check out the main ones:
1. Organic Cotton Uses Less Water
Perhaps the biggest benefit organic cotton production offers for farmers is that it uses nearly 71% less water than regular cotton. This is a big plus considering production of one T-shirt from conventional cotton requires over 2,000 gallons of water. In contrast, a T-shirt made from using organic cotton requires less than 190 gallons. Organic cotton is also more resilient in drought conditions than regular cotton, making it more suitable for growth in dry conditions.
2. Organic Cotton is Better in Quality than Regular Cotton
There’s a notable difference in the quality of organic cotton vs. regular cotton. Organic cotton is purer because it is completely handpicked. As a result, it contains longer and stronger fibers than regular cotton which is mostly machine-picked. Due to high demand, cotton farmers and producers use machines to pick cotton, which not only leads to wastage and product loss but also affects the quality of the fabric. This is because the machines often break the organic fibers before processing. And the production plants break them down further using chemicals. As a result, regular cotton is neither soft nor as durable as organic cotton.
3. Regular Cotton Uses Pesticides
Nearly a quarter of the total insecticides and fertilizers used around the world is for cultivating non-organic cotton. These chemicals cause environmental damage by spreading into the soil and water. They find their way into plants, which are consumed by humans and wildlife. As a result, they compromise the overall biodiversity of the region they’re grown in. Regular pesticide exposure via contaminated crops or water can lead to cancer, birth defects, and Alzheimer’s, etc. In contrast, organic cotton is free of pesticides during all the production stages which has a lower environmental impact.
4. Cultivating Organic Cotton Has a Smaller Carbon Footprint
Organic cotton farming has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than its conventional counterpart. It employs modern farming and production techniques that emit over 46% less carbon dioxide in the process. This is a massive difference that can potentially reverse some of the damage caused by conventional farming methods, especially when CO2 makes up 25% of the total greenhouse gases wreaking havoc in the ozone layer.
Secondly, organic cotton production maximizes filtering and keeps it from escaping into the atmosphere. Plus, with less water and zero chemical requirements, this method uses nearly 62% less energy than regular cotton cultivation.
5. Organic Cotton Production Offers More Control to Farmers
Conventional farming requires more resources than most farmers are not in control of, such as chemicals and water. Since organic cotton production uses less water and no synthetic chemicals, farmers have more control throughout the process. Secondly, they have access to local resources, such as manure and natural pesticides, which are not only cheaper but also easier to procure.
Secondly, unlike regular cotton, organic cotton is a rotational crop, meaning after its cultivation, the land remains suitable for growing other crops. This increases food security as farmers become more self-sufficient and less dependent on store-bought goods. More importantly, growing organic cotton in areas where the weather is unpredictable can offer greater resilience to farmers.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some frequently asked questions about organic cotton vs cotton:
1. Where is organic cotton grown?
According to statistics, over 97% of the world’s organic cotton is grown in China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, the United States, and Kyrgystan. This is because organic cotton seeds are difficult to procure and require specific land and climate conditions to grow well.
2. How to wash organic cotton?
To properly wash organic cotton, you first need to ensure the water temperature is less than 86°F (30°C). Add mild detergent to the water and wash the cotton inside out. Secondly, if you’re washing it with other clothes, make sure they’re similar in color otherwise the organic cotton may absorb some of the colors. Lastly, try to air dry or tumble dry in shade or low heat conditions.
3. What is GOTS organic cotton?
GOTS organic cotton is organic cotton produced and certified as per the defined criteria set by the Global Organic Textile Standard. The GOTS certification indicates that manufactures were socially responsible and emphasized environmental production.
4. How much organic cotton is grown globally?
According to 2019 statistics, over farmers over 200,000 farmers from 19 countries grew approximately 1.2 million bales of organic cotton. This amounts to only 0.93% of the total cotton yield worldwide which should tell you how rare organic cotton is.
5. Why organic cotton is more expensive?
Organic cotton is much more expensive than regular cotton because it is extremely rare. It accounts for less than 1% of the total global cotton yield. Secondly, organic cotton is free of harmful chemicals and gives farmers more control during production thanks to modern farming methods and technologies.
Interested in sustainable clothing, check out our article about the best sustainable clothing brands.
Conclusion – Organic Cotton or Regular Cotton?
While the answer to this question is pretty straightforward, let’s summarize the most important facts. Organic cotton production uses 71% less water than regular cotton production. Secondly, organic cotton is grown without harmful pesticides and chemicals that can spread into the environment. And finally, organic cotton emits less than 50% carbon dioxide than its conventional counterpart. From a consumer viewpoint, organic cotton products are softer, stronger, more durable, and hence, better.
So next time you have to choose between organic cotton vs cotton, you know which one to pick and why.