Organic vs Regular Cotton: Water Intake, Carbon Footprint and Risk to Human Health
Is it worth making the switch to organic cotton? Surely there isn't much of a difference between regular and organic cotton...
INCORRECT! Sorry that was a bit abrupt... But once I started researching this topic, I was quite surprised by how a simple switch to organic cotton can have such a large-scale impact. So, let's start at the beginning.
Whether you are choosing what broccoli to buy at the grocery store or choosing which jumper to buy online, items that are labelled 'organic' generally have the same meaning.
It means that the ingredient used in your Monday night stir-fry or the material used to stitch together your stylish knitted jumper has not been exposed to the use of synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides or insecticides during production. It also means that the crop is not genetically modified, or is not a GMO, to use the popular acronym.
The deliberation of choosing the regular option or the organic option is extremely important when it comes to cotton, as there is no crop in the world that is exposed to as many chemicals as cotton during production.
There are varying tiers of standards associated with organic crops, depending on the type of certification the product has. For example, our organic makeup pouches are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres.
This body imposes the following standards, among others:
- The product must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibres
- No toxic chemicals have been used to grow the crop
- The crop is not genetically modified
- The crop is not treated with toxic processes including the common use of formaldehyde, heavy metals, nano particles and aromatic solvents
- The supply chain adheres to the principles of the International Labour Organisation
The Three Main Differentiators When it Comes to Cotton
Water Intake. Regular cotton requires approximately 10 times more water than organic cotton to grow. To put this another way, one t-shirt made of regular cotton requires 2,700 litres of water which is 4 hot-tubs, whilst a t-shirt made of organic cotton only requires 240 litres of water which is one third of a hot tub.
Carbon Footprint. The use of fertilisers and pesticides in regular cotton production release greenhouse gas emissions in the form of nitrous dioxide. By replacing these harsh chemicals with more environmentally-friendly alternatives, organic cotton reduces emissions by approximately 46%.
Risk to Human Health. By removing the harsh chemicals involved in the cultivation, production and processing of cotton, organic crop production implements a high standard of welfare in regards to the environmental conditions and the working conditions respectively. Some certification bodies take this a step further by enforcing social criteria on safe and fair working conditions as a whole.
All of these factors promote a sustainable supply chain whereby the entire ecosystem benefits. Fortunately, choosing organic cotton isn't your only option when it comes to sustainable materials.
There are a range of other fabrics, vegan and non-vegan, that are also biodegradable and have a lower ecological footprint than their synthetic counterparts:
Be Conscientious about your Cotton Crop for your Coral Crop Top
Try saying that three times! I think that's a phrase that might really stick... But in all seriousness, our choices as consumers have a large-scale ripple effect on our air quality, water quality, soil quality and even our fellow humans' quality of life.
In a world where we can feel so powerless about the environmental degradation and human rights abuses in the labour market globally, it feels empowering to know that the good choices we make daily can be cumulative in our lifetime and across the lifetime of many to promote positive change.