A few years ago we started hearing about organic cotton. But what is the difference between conventional cotton and ‘organic’ cotton?
First of all a huge amount of pesticides is used to grow a traditional cotton and most of the farmers currently use many of the most hazardous pesticides available on the market. This practice is not only harmful to the environment and wildlife but it can also harm people. People who work growing the crops without fully effective protection are everyday risking their lives producing cotton to fulfill the high volume required for the textile industry. Not only these pesticides can poison farm workers but can also contaminate the ground, surface water and spread into adjacent communities.
Each year cotton producers around the world use nearly US$2.6 billion worth of pesticides. This is more than 10% of the pesticides and nearly 25% of the insecticides used in the world each year.
Now let’s talk about organic cotton. The methods and materials used to produce organic cotton have a low impact on the environment. Organic cotton producers don’t use toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Instead they use composted manure, beneficial insects and trap-crops to replace synthetic fertilizers. trap crop is a plant that attracts agricultural pests, usually insects, away from nearby crops.
Another difference between organic cotton and traditional cotton fields is irrigation. Cotton field needs a lot of water! Usually organic cotton crops are rain-fed, not irrigated, so less water is used.
In several countries federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming. All cotton sold as organic must meet strict regulations covering how the cotton is grown.
The organic cotton market is much smaller than the traditional cotton market and the production in volume is less. Usually organic cotton is a bit more expensive than conventional cotton, for this reason traditional cotton is much more used in the textile industry. But many companies are fighting to make organic cotton much more competitive with traditional cotton.
In my view this is a really good thing. I believe if we make sustainable material more affordable to people they will buy more eco-friendly things. I think that many of the eco-friendly products are often targeted towards wealthier demographic, which will pay more for the ‘eco’ label. If we bring the price down, more people will have access to an eco-friendly fashion lifestyle.
Of course if we really want be eco-friendly, we will always to find creative ways to practice that, but if the textile industry can give us a little helping hand it would make it so much easier to spread the word!