Definition of organic cotton
Organic cotton is cotton that is grown according to the guidelines of organic farming. This means that no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers are used in production and cultivation takes place naturally.Organic cotton is often also referred to as "sustainable cotton" because it focuses on environmentally friendly and socially acceptable production.
WHAT MAKES ORGANIC COTTON BETTER THAN CONVENTIONAL COTTON?
Even organic cotton is not completely environmentally and climate-friendly. However, the return to natural, sustainable and considerate cultivation shows what positive changes are possible for the environment and people.
Currently (as of spring 2022), organic cotton accounts for just 1% of the cotton grown worldwide. The good news is that there is still a lot of potential to do something better :)
Let's take a closer look at the benefits of organic cotton:
1. Organic cotton uses 91% less water than conventional.
In addition, the water used does not come for the most part from artificial irrigation, but from what nature provides us. 95% of the water used is so-called green water. This includes rainwater and water stored in the ground.
Various factors play a role in the significantly lower water consumption. For example, organically farmed soils can store moisture better, and farmers in organic cultivation projects are also taught how to use water as a resource more efficiently through various irrigation measures.
2. No synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used in the cultivation of organic cotton.
A factor that causes the amount of water required for conventional cotton to skyrocket. By doing without chemicals, on-site water pollution can also be reduced at the same time.
The absence of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers continues to have a very positive impact on workers' health.
3. Organic cotton is not only cultivated without toxic chemicals, but also in further processing.
That means you end up wearing clothes on your skin that are free of many harmful substances.
4. No genetically modified plants are used.
This not only has a positive effect on the environment, the farmers in particular benefit greatly from this. These are independent of the large seed and pesticide companies and can therefore act much more independently. On top of that, the seeds of the naturally grown cotton can be used to grow new crops. The purchase of expensive seeds is therefore no longer necessary.
5. Farmers who grow organic cotton can achieve higher profit margins and earn more.
Smallholder structures and the independence of the farmers are supported.
6. Organic cotton uses 62% less energy and the impact on global warming can be reduced by up to 46%.
7. According to a long-term study by the Soil Association ( https://www.soilassociation.org/ ), the yield of organic cotton is about 14% lower. On the other hand, the production costs are 38% lower compared to conventional cotton. It can also be mentioned here that the organic farmers can also grow other plants/cultures on the same fields as an advantage.
Is organic cotton also fair trade?
No. Organic cotton or the organic seal does not guarantee that the cotton was grown under fair and socially correct working conditions. It is therefore important that you also take a look at the other certificates (see which seal guarantees fair working conditions here) .
But you can be sure that the working conditions when growing organic cotton are much better, healthier and more sustainable than with conventional cotton.
Organic cotton seal
To ensure that the cotton used is actually certified organic, there are various seals and certificates that you can look out for.
The best-known seals include GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) , Fairtrade Cotton and the organic seal of the EU. These seals ensure that the cotton has been grown in an environmentally friendly manner and that the working conditions for the farmers are fair.
So if you're looking to buy clothing or other products made from organic cotton, it's worth checking out these labels to make sure you're actually buying organic cotton.
Disadvantages of conventional cotton
There's actually nothing wrong with cotton, is there?
To understand the benefits of organic cotton, we must first understand the impact of traditional cotton. (If you don't like reading that much, you can also jump straight to the benefits of organic cotton)
Environmental and health impacts
Typically, cotton requires a warm climate, lots of water, and takes several years to harvest. Rain can have a negative effect on the harvest, as the cotton-like buds can soak up water and rot.
So, to maximize the yield of the crop, cotton has been cultivated to be harvested every year and is mostly grown in arid areas.
But didn't you just say that cotton requires a lot of water?
But luckily we invented artificial irrigation. Unfortunately, this has devastating ecological and social consequences. Soils are not used to so much water and are being destroyed, rivers are being dammed and diverted, the water table is sinking and people no longer have access to drinking water. (Feel free to read the history of the Aral Sea)
According to the WWF, it takes about 2700 liters of water to produce the amount of cotton needed to make 1 t-shirt. That's about 15 full bathtubs. For 1 shirt.
Use of pesticides and other chemicals
In order to continue to maximize the harvest, vast amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are used.
These not only poison the soil, waste water and release harmful greenhouse gases, but also affect the health of workers. The WHO assumes that 20,000 people in cotton cultivation die every year from pesticide poisoning and that there are around another 500,000 cases of poisoning with serious health consequences.
However, this problem does not only extend to the cultivation of cotton. Thousands of different chemicals are also used worldwide in further processing, eg bleaching, dyeing or finishing, many of which are potentially harmful to health and the environment.
Dependence on genetically modified seeds
The use of genetically modified plants is also associated with risks. However, the supposedly positive effects of this have now been refuted.
Instead of increased yields, new problems were created. These range from the increasing resistance of pests to pesticides, as they have become accustomed to the poison and the associated use of increasingly toxic pesticides, to the uncontrolled spread of plants to the dependence of farmers on genetically modified seeds and the necessary pesticides .
It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain non-genetically modified seeds.
Since genetically modified seeds are very expensive, many farmers in India, for example, borrow money in order to be able to continue planting.
However, the harvest is not protected against bad weather, so that a crop failure represents an economic fiasco for the farmers. No harvest means no income. Debts cannot be repaid, but at the same time new seeds have to be bought in order for a new harvest to be possible at all.
A vicious circle begins from which there is (almost) no escape.
After realizing the impact of conventional cotton and the benefits of organic cotton, I had no choice but to only use organic cotton in our garments.
Ultimately, of course, it is completely up to you which clothes you buy and what materials they are made of.
However, I hope that the information provided will help you to develop more awareness of this topic and I am of course happy if a piece of clothing made from organic cotton might end up in your closet the next time you go shopping :)