Did you ever notice how the human relationship with cotton is almost symbiotic? I mean, this natural fiber is present in almost every item of our surroundings. Actually, I invite you to do the test – open your closet and take a look at the garment labels. I’d be curious to know how many items your are able to find with traces of cotton. Now it doesn’t stop there ; Cotton is used for your bedsheets, your towels, your underwear and even for your coffee filter. It’s even in the food we eat – cottonseed oil is indeed extracted from the actual plant. One of the main reasons of it’s prominence is that cotton has properties that make it perfect either alone or when combined with other fibres. Sadly, it’s production has become so widespread that while some of us our benefiting from it, our planet is profoundly suffering. The impact it has not only on the envrionment, but also on the human being is too crucial to be silenced.  

 

T-shirts don’t grow on trees

It might not seem like it but that piece of clothing traveled a long way before ending up in your closet. If we go way back, it’s life cycle actually begins on a farm. Naturally, we tend to think that farming is only required for food but natural fibers like cotton for example, are grown on land just like an apple or a tomato. If you’re aware about all the issues related to food grown from conventional agriculture, Cotton farming is just as hazardous to both the environment and the human being. Considering the multiple stages of production, from farming to processing, all of these steps added together impact massively our planet. For example, did you know that it can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans? That’s like, a lot.

I agree with you, Cotton is soft and comfortable and has all these amazing properties that made it the fiber of choice for as long as we could think of. Cotton itself is not the issue – it’s more a consequence of globalization and mass production. The same pattern has happened with intensive wheat production that led to gluten intolerance and celiac disease. While this is a controversial subject, I believe that wheat became bad for us when food companies decided to not only add it to almost everything we eat but also to transform it to a point where it held no valuable nutrients to our body. In parallel, Cotton is mainly grown in mono-culture which means that it’s the only plant cultivated on the same land. On the long run, this type of agriculture is problematic because it uses up the soil’s resources and affects biodiversity. Taking the fact that ‘’current estimates for world production are about 25 million tonnes or 110 million bales annually, accounting for 2.5% of the world’s arable land’’, we have reason to be concerned about the planet’s health. Adding to that, China and India being the world’s two biggest producers of cotton are most likely not working under decent conditions.

 

Pesticides – what or WHO are they killing, REALLY?

Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 6,8% of all herbicides used worldwide. That’s pretty insane and makes me wonder if I’m actually inhaling them right now as I am comfortably sitting in my 100% cotton pajama. Even though what’s probably left on my t-shirt is residual, it is most likely not the case for the Chinese or the Indian farmers working on the field. In underdeveloped countries, workers do not have the luxury to use the right equipment nor the proper education on how to use pesticides safely. This aspect really hits home because when I was volunteering in Nicaragua, the family who welcomed me was collectively suing a banana plantation company for the loss of one of their family members. As they had welcomed me into their warm home, the grandmother was still grieving her beloved husband whom she had lost to a terrible cancer just a month ago. The doctors blamed the pesticides which he was manipulating and spraying, but also inhaling daily. I’ve seen them with my own eyes in Nicaragua – Farmers using Roundup and not wearing any protection.

It’s okay! We keep the spray far from our body and face – this is the answer I received while raising concern during a discussion with one of the farmers. It made me sad and frustrated but who was I to tell them how to work? Especially considering that my background had nothing to do with farming.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Another consequence of the excessive use of pesticides is pest resistance. It’s kind of like when the doctor gives you antibiotics to treat a bacteria, but the situation only gets worse because the microorganisms were able to develop resistance to the drug by multiplying themselves. Now to overcome this increase of population, farmers will invest even more in pesticides which eventually leads them into what is called the pesticide trap, more like the vicious circle of farming. In underdeveloped countries, many farmers will eventually need to borrow money in order to save their crops. Sadly, In the end they will still end up making less money than their initial output.    

Why is it my responsibility ?

We all have a part to play in this world. We cannot live sustainably if we keep blaming each other and refuse to take responsibility in social matters. If brands refuse to change their ways and to invest in sustainable development, we as consumers need to raise awareness and relook at the way we consume.

Now even though a few producers have shifted their model to organic agriculture, it’s still not enough – products are not that easy to find. In fact, the most wide-spread merchandise made out of organic cotton are diapers and baby clothes.

 

Here are a few things you can do help with the cotton issue :

  • Buy organic cotton – whether it’s in your clothes, bed sheets, tampons/pads or in your makeup remover pad.

* Fortunately, a few clothing brands now offer organic cotton throughout their collections – I recently bought a top from H&M’s Conscious collection and I confirm that it’s one of the softest and most comfortable piece I own.

  • Prioritize different fibers that are less harmful to the environment like Tencel, linen, wool, silk, modal and recycled fibers 
  • Go thrift shopping! Re-use, re-purpose, recycle. By doing so, you are making demand for new clothes go down, consequently reducing production of cotton.
  • Talk about it to your friends and surroundings – the more people know, the better are the chances to find solutions. It’s called raising awareness.  

Always remember this : you vote with your money so spend wisely.  

Sources :

http://www.naturalfibres2009.org

http://www.organiccotton.org