The Problem with Cotton: Even Organic Isn’t a Panacea

By Robyn Campbell

cotton_worker

Cotton production has been responsible for environmental destruction for a long time. In fact, according to the Organic Trade Association cotton is the world’s “dirtiest” crop due to all of the pesticides and chemicals used to grow and produce it. Even organic cotton is problematic.

The National Cotton Council’s slogan, “Cotton: the fabric of our lives,” isn’t off the mark by any means. “Cotton represents nearly half the fiber used to make clothes and other textiles worldwide,” according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the world’s largest conservation organizations. This means that you and your family are most likely wearing cotton that is unhealthy for you and everyone involved with growing and producing it.

Okay, you say, but how bad can it be?

Pesticides
Like many commercial plants, pesticides are used to keep insects as far away from plants as possible. But these same chemicals that keep pests away are dangerous for humans.

“Aldicarb, the world’s second biggest selling pesticide is classified as extremely hazardous by the World Health Organization,” says People and Planet, a student-run advocacy network in Britain aimed at protecting the environment. “One drop absorbed through the skin is enough to kill an adult, yet this pesticide is still widely used in cotton production.”

Chemicals like Aldicarb are often used in developing countries that lack the equipment, technology, information, and training to handle these chemicals safely. Understandably this leads to various forms of cancer, as well as issues for pregnant women (including DNA mutation).

As if this isn’t bad enough, the chemicals have a high chance of run-off into local farms and water supplies. Vegetables and other crops that farmers need to sustain themselves struggle to grow in contaminated soil and water, leading to a high rate of malnutrition.

Water
How much water do you think it takes to produce a T-shirt or pair of jeans? A couple of gallons? Try over 5,000 gallons.

According to WWF, “it can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans.” IN U.S. equivalency, this equates to about 5,283 gallons of water to produce just 2.20 pounds of cotton.

In addition to the water intensive process, the source of the water is concerning. People and Planet reports that “Only about 27% of cotton is grown under rain-fed conditions. The rest is produced in irrigated fields, which leads to greater water loss through seepage, evaporation and poor water management.”

Organic Cotton
In recent years, organic cotton has started to gain a foothold on the global stage. But even organic cotton has its issues with sustainability.

Organic cotton is produced without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, which is great, but dyes and chemicals are still used to add color to the fiber. And these chemicals aren’t necessarily good for you either. Organic cotton also promotes better farming (crop rotation) and water management, but it’s still a water-intensive process.

lur® apparel
We believe in another, better alternative: recycling. Our recycled fiber is constructed from a combination of post-consumer recycled polyester fiber and pre-consumer recycled colored cotton.

Where does the recycled polyester come from? We collect and clean plastic bottles before chopping them into small flakes and melting them. Once they are melted, the plastic is extruded and texturized to form a polyester fiber.

The recycled cotton originates from the “waste” scraps of commercial apparel production facilities. We collect the scraps, sort them by color, chop them, and then combine the yarn with the recycled polyester fiber to create yarn. This yarn is then knitted into stylish pieces the lur® brand is noted for.

Not only does our process recycle waste from two different sources, but it reduces the use of dyes or harmful chemicals to create color. We’re able to bypass these dyes by using cotton that already has color.

Want to know more about how lur® clothes are made? Check out our product infographic. Want to keep up with us? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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