Did you know cotton is the world's dirtiest crop?
The non-organic cotton industry is a huge source of global environmental pollution, using almost 16% of all insecticides produced globally. This has led to the fashion industry becoming one of the most polluting industries on the planet, second only to oil.
Although cotton is of immense commercial importance globally, it is a sector that faces many social, economic and environmental challenges. For example, for the cotton market to operate sustainably improvements need to be made to:
- Increase the income of smallholder farmers;
- Reduce and eliminate toxic pesticides and petroleum-based fertilisers;
- Reduce water use and improve water quality; and
- Improve soil health, including positive carbon impacts as a result of more sustainable practices.
Why is cotton so important?
- Cotton is an important and heavily traded commodity - a primary raw material in the multi-billion dollar textile market. In 2013/14, 26.2 million tonnes of cotton was produced globally, on around 33.1 million hectares of land.
- Cotton is produced in 100 countries and uses approximately 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land. It is estimated that 100 million households, most in some of the world’s poorest countries, are dependent on cotton farming.
- Although the manufacture, distribution and consumer-use phases of the lifecycle of a cotton product account for the majority of its total GHG emissions, cotton production is responsible for approximately 12% the total.
- Cotton production uses $2 billion worth of pesticides each year, and accounts for 16% of global insecticide use – more than any other single crop – a fact which has led to cotton be called the world’s ‘dirtiest’ agricultural commodity. Cotton crops use huge quantities of water, and consumption increases as cotton products move through the textile supply
What makes organic cotton different?
Organic cotton delivers proven benefits for people and the environment - when it comes to making sustainability claims you can trust, nothing beats it.
Organic cotton on the other hand benefits cotton producers and the environment in developing countries by avoiding the harmful effects of toxic pesticides, and the reduced cost of production improves social conditions. Social conditions for cotton growers can be difficult, with poverty, health problems and suicide common, and thousands of chemicals are used to turn raw material into clothes, towels, bedding and other items that we put next to our skin every day.
There are a number of reasons why choosing organic cotton is important for both the environment and the people who grow and pick the cotton...
It's better for the environment
Organic fibres are grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers or toxic pesticides. By building soil fertility organic farmers help lock CO2 into the soil, helping mitigate climate change. It also avoids the use of the toxic pesticides that, in non-organic systems, are responsible for poisoning wildlife and rivers, as well as killing an estimated 16,000 people each year.
It's better for workers
By avoiding toxic pesticides cotton workers benefit by avoiding the associated health problems and deaths common in non-organic cotton production. Avoiding pesticides also reduces production costs and farmer debts – the burden of pesticide debt has resulted in thousands of suicides in the developing world.
It's GM Free
GM is banned in organic systems, while an estimated 30% of all cotton grown worldwide is genetically modified. GM cotton poses a potential risk to wildlife and human health, as well as exposing farmers to unnecessary expense.
No harmful chemicals
Our standards ensure that the chemicals used in processing textiles meet strict requirements on toxicity and biodegradability. In contrast, non-organic manufacture uses tens of thousands of acutely toxic chemicals, many of which are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Factory conditions are better
Poor working conditions and rights in the garments industry are common place. Soil Association certified organic textiles must meet social criteria based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. These cover minimum wages, working hours, child labour, freedom of association, discrimination, harsh or inhumane treatment and more.
It's residue free
By prohibiting and restricting harmful chemicals in organic textile production and processing, final products don’t contain allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues from them. These residues can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and may cause allergies, skin rashes or respiratory problems.