Organic cotton is a term that is been going in rounds all over the internet, you might’ve heard of it from emerging sustainable brands. But what is Organic cotton and how does it benefit the environment ? Organic cotton is a cotton that is produced and certified to organic agricultural standards. Its production sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people by using natural processes rather than artificial inputs. Importantly organic cotton farming does not allow the use of toxic chemicals or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Instead, it combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote a good quality of life for all involved.
Why Organic Cotton Though ? –
Organic farmers use natural methods to grow cotton, not fossil-fuel based fertilizers. By working with nature, farmers build healthy soils which store carbon and help to combat climate change.
Organic cotton is better for water than conventionally produced cotton. Organic farming creates healthy soils, which act like a sponge, soaking up water during floods and holding it for longer in times of drought. Hazardous synthetic pesticides and fertilisers are banned in organic farming, so rivers, lakes and drinking water are kept cleaner too.
To maintain a balanced system on their farms, organic farmers always grow other crops alongside their cotton, which helps to keep soils healthy, encourage wildlife and protect topsoil. For cotton farmers, these crops can provide farming families and their communities with a more stable, accessible, abundant and diverse food supply and another source of income.
Organic farmers use natural methods like crop rotation to control pests and diseases. Hazardous synthetic pesticides used in non-organic farming can damage ecosystems, poison waterways and endanger workers who can’t always afford safety equipment needed to protect them.
Organic cotton is ideal for sensitive skin, or even people with atopic skin. It is a hypoallergenic fibre with a very soft touch. It is breathable. It keeps skin dry by absorbing moisture and expelling body heat.
What’s the deal with Cotton ?
Conventional cotton is notorious for being one of the world’s most chemically intensive crops. Since cotton is such a popular crop, it uses around 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of all insecticides, which is more than any other crop. Extremely harmful to the environment, they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and pollute thousands of litres of drinkable water. As found by the World Health Organization, the most common insecticides used in cotton production even include three of the most hazardous chemicals! These toxic substances result in health risks for cotton farmers and inhabitants of nearby villages, and their use has been causing an increase in miscarriages, malformations and cancer in those areas. Basically, not only is cotton bad for the environment: its production is also unethical.
The pollution caused by fertilisers and pesticides isn’t the only way in which cotton production affects water. This fibre requires it in high amounts: unfortunately, natural rains aren’t enough. It takes a whole 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton t-shirt. Let that sink in! The fact that such high volumes of water are directed to cotton farms takes them away from natural sources, people and other agricultural uses. The consequences are dire: for example, the Aral Sea has shrunk by 85% after decades of cotton production!
Another problem of cotton production is its extensive use of land, converting large habitats to agricultural use. Such high quantities of water also result in soil salinisation, meaning that other plants will struggle or fail to grow there.
The GOTS certification
Textile products have several certifications to claim they are organic, but many of these certifications do not ensure the product is fully organic from farm to finish, or guarantee worker rights. This is where GOTS comes in. The GOTS certification is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, and requires producers to go through rigorous checking processes at every point of the supply chain before receiving certification.
Firstly, a certification from governmental organic farming standards is needed to prove the cotton fibre is grown and farmed without GMO seeds and without the use of any toxic chemicals or pesticides. Farmers also must be certified according to international organic farming standards, which helps with the traceability of the cotton. For cotton to be certified organic, it must also be grown in soil that has been free of prohibited substances for at least three years prior to harvest.
Key environmental criteria for GOTS certification include:
· all chemicals used (dyes, processing) have to meet requirements on toxicity and biodegradability
· no hazardous inputs such as heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents, or genetically modified organisms (GMO) are allowed
· bleaches must be oxygen based with no chlorine bleaching allowed
· carcinogenic azo dyes are not allowed
· no PVC, nickel, or chrome accessories are allowed
· printing methods that use aromatic solvents, phthalates or PVC aren’t allowed
· operators must have policies and procedures to minimise waste and discharges
· all wastewater must be treated in functional treatment plants (not just released into waterways)·
· packaging can’t contain PVC, and all paper or cardboard used must be recycled or certified by FSC or PEFC