What's the big deal about Organic Cotton?
Why Organic Cotton Matters
There is most likely cotton in every area of our homes, including our bedrooms, kitchens, closets, living rooms, even our medicine cabinets. Cotton is good, though, right? After all, Zoey Daschanel and Hayden Panettiere look so happy in those “Fabric of Our Lives” commercials.
Unfortunately, things aren’t always as they appear. It isn’t hard to find the damning evidence against conventionally grown cotton. With just a quick Google search, I found copious research about the harmful effects of cotton production. When grown conventionally, cotton is actually considered the dirtiest crop in the world. Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world's insecticides, more than any other single major crop.Things are even worse in India, home to over one third of the world’s cotton farmers, where cotton accounts for 54% of all pesticides used annually – despite occupying just 5% of crop land.
On top of all that, the men, women and children who work in the cotton industry are continually exposed to these toxins. In many areas of the world, cotton is a hand-picked crop. Consider that a single drop of the pesticide aldicarb absorbed through the skin can kill an adult. This pesticide is commonly used in cotton production in the United States and 25 other countries worldwide.
And, we haven’t even touched on all the synthetic additives that cotton receives in the manufacturing process! Here’s a straight quote from The Organics Institute:
During the conversion of conventional cotton into clothing and fabric, many hazardous materials such as softeners, silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde are used and added to the product.
Conventional cotton manufacturing processes often result in large volumes of toxic waste water that carry away residues from chemical cleaning, dyeing and finishing. This toxic waste pollutes our waterways, depleting the oxygen from the water and destroying marine animals and disrupting the ecosystems.
Most chemicals applied during the cultivation and processing of conventional cotton leave chemical residues in the fabrics, which could cause allergies, skin irritations, chemical sensitivities and other health problems.
Thankfully, cotton doesn’t have to be produced in this radically harmful way! In fact, there is a growing number of farmers and companies who are choosing to produce cotton organically. Here’s more great information from The Organics Institute:
On the other hand, organic cotton is grown in soil that is certified free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic cotton farmers use environmentally sustainable systems that replenish and maintain soil fertility, promote biodiversity and natural pest control. They use natural fertilizers such as compost and animal manure that recycles the nitrogen within the soil.
All the ‘nasty’ chemicals used in the processing of conventional cotton are prohibited in organic cotton processing. Only certain biodegradable, low impact dyes and oxy, hydrogen peroxide bleach is allowed in organic certification. Therefore, organic cotton is non-toxic and hypoallergenic, thus ideal for those with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
At this point, because conventional cotton has a higher demand and its production is often subsidized, it is artificially cheaper to buy than organic cotton. The price tag doesn’t show all those “hidden” costs of conventional production detailed above, though. If you want to have only truly natural cotton touching you and your family, you can start small by swapping out products one at a time. It may take a bit more time to find, but there are cotton swabs, bedding, clothing and other products made with only organic cotton. Have you found an organic cotton product that you love, or know of a good source to find them? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments!