100% Cotton is label that people often look for, cotton is seen as a sign of quality but if people understood the environmental and social costs of cotton production would they still consider normal cotton to be a sign of quality or would they search out the ‘organic cotton’ label instead?

A lot of people think that cotton is a natural product and up until about 50 years ago it pretty much was, not modern farming methods and the drive for greater yields and profits mean that there is plenty unnatural in the growing process now. 

First there is water; Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, taking about 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years. Want an example of what that does to the environment? Go on Google earth and type ‘Aral Sea’.  You won’t see a sea, what you will see is a near dessert.  The Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of volume in less than a generation.  The primary cause of this is irrigation for cotton production.  With so much water diverted to cotton production, clean drinking water is becoming harder to access for the Uzbek citizens.

Take chemicals for example; conventionally grown cotton accounts for more than 25% of worldwide insecticide use and 10% of the pesticides.  The USDA produced a study in 2000 showing that eighty-four million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on cotton in the U.S.A, ranking it second behind corn. Some of these toxic chemicals include the infamous defoliant Paraquat and insecticides like Parathion which is 60 times more toxic that DDT! In fact, the EPA considers 7 of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton as “likely” or “known” human carcinogens.   The majority of the chemicals used find their way into the local environment, poisoning the plants, air and water.  Many of these chemicals are cancer causing amongst other diseases and illnesses that are inflicted on the local populations.

It’s not just cotton workers and farmers whose bodies absorb the chemicals from cotton production.  In November 2012, Greenpeace exposed some of the world’s best known fashion retailers are selling clothing contaminated with hazardous chemicals that break down to form hormone-disrupting or cancer-causing chemicals when released into the environment.  The full effects of this are not know but some things to consider, your skin is your largest organ of absorption, toxins absorbed by the skin are taken up by the lymphatic system, absorbed into the blood stream and then eventually the liver.  These chemicals may only be in minute qualities, but we wear clothing contaminated by chemicals every day for a lifetime.  Also it is reckless to presume that there is no risk from the toxic mix of chemical that our body absorbs from daily life.

Organic Cotton has the benefit that it is free from these chemicals, free from the heavy metals such as chromium or copper, free from formaldehyde (yes, you read that correctly), A field must be pesticide-free for at least three years to be certified organic, and the cotton must be processed according to international organic standards.  Organic farmers use natural methods such as crop rotation and natural means to control pests and weeds.  These are less carbon intensive and do not compromise worker’s health.  Organic cotton production produces longer stable cotton fibres which yield stronger yarns and more durable products.

Be kind to the earth and be kind to your skin and buy only Organic Cotton where possible in the future.

September is ‘Organic September’ visit the Soil Association website to find out more: http://www.soilassociation.org/smallchangesbigdifference                     


Guest post written by: Rick Awdas founder of Ethical In Style.

Ethical In Style is one of the largest online ethical fashion directories. What’s great is that it helps you  to easily find ethical yet stylish clothing. With over 2000 listings, not only does Ethical In Style point you in the direction of ethical fashion but also gives useful ethical fashion tips too.You can find help & tips on how to be Ethical in Style, choose clothing that will help you look and feel fantastic. www.ethicalinstyle.com