Organic Cotton: More Then Just a Fashion Statement
You dry yourself with it after taking a shower, you lay your head against it when you go to sleep. The oil from its seeds flavors your favorite snacks and your probably wearing it right now. Cotton is one of the most widely traded and highly subsidized crops in the world. For the past 7,000 years, mankind has cultivated its fibers into clothing, and pressed the oil from its seeds for sustenance.
Compared to man-made materials like acrylic and polyester, cotton seems like a natural alternative. It is certainly versatile; breathable and cool in the summer, easily layered in the winter. Yet there's a dark side of cotton that most consumers are unaware of: cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world.
The commercial farming of cotton accounts for over 10% of pesticides and 22% of insecticides sprayed annually, though it is grown on just over 2% of the world's arable land. In the United States, where cotton heavily is farmed, it's commercial production accounts for over 25% of pesticides used annually.
Every year, heavily sprayed cotton plants are woven into garments and bedding for consumers to purchase. Roughly one-third a pound of pesticides and fertilizer is needed to produce enough cotton for a single t-shirt. Meanwhile cottonseeds are pressed into oil for packaged foods and salad dressings. Dairy cattle and livestock are fed a large portion of inorganically milled cottonseeds, introducing toxic pesticides that are banned for use in food crops into our diets. The toxic residue from cotton production pollutes soils and kills wildlife, but perhaps more disturbing is that the World Health Organization estimates that 20,000 cotton workers die every year from contamination.
Given these facts, it is easy to see how wearing organic cotton is more then just a fashion statement.
What You Can Do: Buy Organic
Organic cotton is cultivated using sustainable farming methods that lack heavy chemicals and maintain soil fertility. Farmers depend on crop rotations, seasonal, and other labor -intensive techniques to protect and nurture their crops. Certified organic cotton, extends beyond the farming process and into the final stages of production. A third party certification process ensures that organic cotton is free of chemical treatments and harmful dyes that are typical in conventional cotton manufacturing processes.
The price and increased risk involved with organic cotton farming has swayed many cotton producers from making the switch. For farmers, dependence on natural processes can make crop yields less abundant. Yet an increased demand for organic cotton is helping to change the status quo. According to Organic Exchange, global organic cotton sales are projected to skyrocket fivefold from 583 million in 2005 to 2.6 billion by the end of this year.
American Apparel and Timberland are some of the larger companies that have started to offer organic blends, by mixing a small percentage of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products. In addition, many emerging boutique companies are producing clothing lines that utilize 100% organic materials. Renu Yoga, an LA Based manufacturer of yoga clothing is one such company. “We use only certified natural organic cotton and we mill the fabrics ourselves”, says Art Rahbar, Renu's proprietor, “for children and people who have extreme sensitivities to those sorts of things, organic cotton is the way to go”. Renu also utilizes bamboo, another highly sustainable material in their products.
The farming of cotton through conventional means takes a huge toll on our planet. Buying certified organic cotton products supports the organic farming industry and lessens your exposure to toxic pesticide residue. Supporting the organic cotton industry also drives the shift to more sustainable farming methods, ensuring that in the future, more organic cotton products will become available.
Kreg Weiss is a co-founder of My Yoga Online and certified Hatha Yoga Teacher. Several years ago, Kreg discovered yoga while teaching health and fitness. Yoga dramatically transformed Kreg's approach to teaching health and wellness as well as changed his personal life bringing new direction in finding physical, mental, and spiritual growth.