The facts are simple, organic cotton is more environmentally friendly, kinder to your skin and better for those who make it when compared to regular cotton. Yet it’s easy to confuse conventional cotton with organic cotton.
With almost 26 million tonnes of cotton harvested every year, such high demand forces farmers to resort to artificial means to grow cotton more quickly.
There are some major differences that make organic cotton much more environmentally friendly. It uses no harmful chemicals or pesticides, provides fair pay and safe working conditions to the farmers who grow it, and the finished material contains fewer toxins. We have written a full list of the advantages and disadvantages of organic cotton vs. regular cotton here.
In this article, we are going to list all of the facts (some of which might shock you), stating the key differences between cotton and organic cotton.
What is meant by organic cotton?
Let’s start with the definition of organic cotton, what is meant by organic? Organic cotton is simply the process of growing cotton without the need for chemical sprays, pesticides or fertilizers. By avoiding these toxic chemicals, you are protecting the environment and the lives of those who grow it.
This is different to conventional cotton which is a very chemically intensive crop. It covers just 2.4% of agricultural land, but consumes 5.7% of global pesticides and 16.1% of insecticides. We are jumping ahead of ourselves here a little. All you need to remember is that organic cotton is better for the environment, the people that grow it, and it’s also better for your health.
Is cotton environmentally friendly?
Sadly we cannot say that cotton is environmentally friendly, despite being a naturally grown crop.
This is largely due to the intensive chemicals sprayed onto cotton in order to accelerate growth. The damage caused by chemical sprays can devastate the local environment, leading to soil degradation, reduced diversity and water pollution that causes thousands to suffer with mild or acute pesticide poisoning. There seems little reason to support that regular cotton is environmentally friendly.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid cotton, instead look out for certified organic cotton or recycled cotton. Ultimately, the quality of clothes produced with organic cotton is typically superior, providing a higher quality more comfortable finish that will last longer.
Now let’s turn our attention towards the facts behind organic cotton vs. regular cotton.
40 shocking facts: Organic Cotton vs. Regular Cotton
Facts about Organic Cotton:
Less than 1% of cotton grown is organic
- No chemical pesticides or fertilizers are added
- No GMO crops or seeds
Organic cotton uses up to 91% less water vs non organic
Organic cotton is 80% rain-fed, reducing pressure in drought prone areas. Two-thirds of the world’s population could be threatened by water shortages by 2025.
- Organic cotton supports biodiversity and healthy ecosystems
- Healthy ecosystems mean more plants, animals and bugs can thrive
- Organic farming techniques increase soil fertility and nutrients naturally
A healthy soil is a carbon sink. The top metre of soil around the globe stores three times more carbon than the entire atmosphere
- Nutrient dense soil helps prevent soil erosion
- Organic farming grows more resilient crops that naturally withstand pests or bad weather
The lifecycle of organic cotton clothing creates 5 to 22 times less water pollution than regular cotton
- Organic cotton promotes fair wages and better working conditions for farmers
- Not only are organic cotton farmers’ wages higher and more stable, less is spent on expensive chemicals, raising many out of poverty
- More disposable income means more spent on personal well-being, education and better quality of life for the whole family
Organic cotton promotes gender equality, particularly in Africa and Asia. Around 10% of organic farmers are women and have control of their own farms.
Many organic cotton farms are cooperatives, respecting local democracy and collaborative working
Organic cotton uses 62% less energy to grow and produce compared to normal cotton
- Organic cotton fibres are typically stronger, better quality, more durable and last longer
- Organic cotton is more comfortable, soft and feels better on your skin
- Organic cotton is hypoallergenic as it contains no chemicals, perfect for sensitive skin
Organic cotton clothing is affordable, take a look at our affordable sustainable fashion collection for men and women
Facts about Conventional Cotton
- Cotton is used to make around 21% of all clothing produced today
- Covers 2.4% of agricultural land, but uses 5.7% of all global pesticides and 16.1% of insecticides
- Conventional cotton is 80% GMO, up to 95% in China, India and US
- A kilogram of cotton takes between 10,000-20,000 litres of water to produce, about the same as your favourite T-Shirt and jeans
- The amount of water consumed to grow exported cotton in India would be enough to provide 85% of the country's population with 100 litres of water every day
- The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world, situated between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It provided for local communities a thriving livelihood. Today it is a toxic wasteland.
- Chemicals sprayed onto cotton run into local waterways
1000 people die every day from pesticide poisoning
- Chemical pesticides and fertilizers deplete soils of natural nutrients
- Conventional cotton is typically grown as a ‘monoculture’ crop, further depleting the soil
- Depleted soils accelerate soil erosion
- Many chemicals are toxic and remain on your clothes even after washing
- There are 8,000 synthetic chemicals used in fashion manufacturing
- There are continued reports of ongoing forced labour in cotton cultivation
- In India, almost half a million children are working in the cotton industry. Around 200,000 of them are below 14 years old, forming 25% of the workforce.
- Some growers spend 60% of their annual income on expensive GMO seeds and chemical sprays, trapping them in debt
- Bad debt forces many to commit suicide
- Pesticides can ruin local economies. One 2013 UNEP study found that pesticide use reduced Mali’s annual agricultural GDP by 50% per person.
Interested to know more about sustainable fabrics? We have just what you are looking for: