Should I buy organic cotton?

Cottoning on to organic

I know what you’re thinking, “organic” is a word that people love to throw in front of their product name to make it sound more appealing 🙄. Believe me, I also used to roll my eyes every time a brand emailed me about their “new organic range”. But one day, instead of deleting the email and moving on to the next newsletter that I had no memory of signing up for, I decided to do some research.

The TL;DR is that organic cotton is actually pretty fucking useful. Just check out the differences we could see in a single day if all cotton was made organically:

An infographic showing the daily savings that organic cotton could make in carbon dioxide production, water consumption and non-renewable energy use.

Now, it’s important to be realistic and acknowledge that there would be a lot of issues in changing the entire world’s cotton production to organic. However, I think we can all agree that in the ideal world that this picture represents, those are some biiiig savings in areas that we are all becoming aware of. Global warming and climate change are in the news regularly and the majority of people now appreciate that these are serious issues. But not many people know about the specific problems of the cotton industry and how organic cotton can help them buy clothes without feeling guilty.

The problem with (non-organic) cotton

Cotton is the most widely used natural fabric because it’s long-lasting, easy to clean and breathable (so it doesn’t store up all that sweat you produce on your daily lockdown walk). But, as the demand for new clothes has been driven higher and higher by fast fashion brands, the amount of cotton produced has increased by 370% over the last 7 years. The quickest way to produce all that cotton for the least amount of money is by upping the amount of fertilizer and insecticide to the current amounts of 8 million tonnes per year and 200,000 tonnes per year, respectively. Don’t get me wrong, fertilizers are useful and even organic farming uses them but let’s not take the piss.

So now we’re growing huge amounts of cotton jacked up on fertilizers but there isn’t enough rainwater to feed it all. Plus the soil has been damaged by excess fertilizer so it can’t store much of the rainwater that does fall. Because of this, irrigation systems—which are basically massive networks of hose pipes—have to pump extra water to the crops, which uses even more energy. It ends up taking up to 20,000L of water to grow a single kilogram of cotton; enough to make one hoodie and a pair of jeans. That’s enough water for 200 baths or 76,000 bottles of WKD blue, depending on the kind of night you’re having.

Organic cotton farms swap the fertilizer for compost, grow other beneficial crops alongside the cotton (intercropping) and regularly rotate the cotton with other types of crop (crop rotation). These techniques, amongst others, allow organic cotton to use a whopping 91% less added water to produce the same amount of end product. But it’s not just water. Take a look at the environmental savings across the board:

An infographic showing the reduction in environmental issues by using organic cotton instead of regular cotton.

Less water, less energy and less pollution is a win all around in my book. But there’s more to being ethical than just being eco-friendly or sustainable. Just look at the big-name brands that hype up their sustainability efforts while the people who make their clothes earn enough to eat once a week and get beaten for sewing a sleeve incorrectly. It may seem obvious, but being ethical means being kind to people too.

Kind to the planet and kind to people

To stop people selling a sweatshop T-Shirt and claiming that it’s organic, The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was setup. If you see their logo on your clothes (It’s on everything AllSome), then you can be sure that they’re organic and have all of the wonderful benefits listed above.

Global Organic Textile Standard logo

The great thing about organizations like GOTS—and what differentiates them from that chancer trying to sell you an “organic” sweatshop tee—is that they’re generally run by people who give a shit (wooo!). So they don’t just grow a ton of cotton that saves energy to brag about how they’re saving the world. They regulate the whole process from cotton seed to T-Shirt and focus on every tiny detail that affects the planet or the people on it.

Most importantly, this means that every person involved in the production of those clothes is paid a fair wage and gets to work in humane conditions. By buying GOTS certified products you’re supporting the systems that enforce these standards. Whether you support organic farming or not, we should all be kind to our fellow humans; wherever they are in the world.

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