With knowledge, the power to change and knowing the positive impact that organic cotton can make, we can make responsible consumer choices and help restore the Earth-life balance.
Through my travels and work on international public health projects overseas, I've been fortunate to gain considerable insight into one of the critical sustainability and environmental issues facing our planet today: the detrimental effect that non-organic cotton production has on humans, animals and the environment.
Travelling across what is known as the ‘suicide belts’ (the agricultural regions) of both India and Bangladesh, I could no longer ignore the staggering pattern of devastating effects of cotton production that I was seeing. Here, there is a large undercurrent causing a dangerous imbalance that I had never stopped to question. I had never asked: what was I actually wearing? Where did it come from? How was it grown? What was in it? Who made it? What was the story behind it? What was happening to the soils? The water? The ecosystem? As time went on, it started to dawn on me that the effects of my plain old, seemingly innocent cotton T-shirt and pants were deadly.
According to a recent report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), some 100 million cotton farmers produce approximately 20 million tonnes of non-organic cotton each year. With this figure in mind, China, the United States, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and West Africa account for more than 75 per cent of global production for the retail market.
For conventionally produced cotton, the cottonseed used is called 'Bt' cotton, which is not only genetically modified but requires a far greater amount of water than natural varieties. What's more, the cotton plants lose their vigour, requiring farmers to buy new stock every year, plus the seeds are becoming insect-resistant and demand irrigation, pesticides, fertilsers and farming techniques that few farmers can afford.
In addition to crop failure is the high economic investment in purchasing the actual seeds. As the cycle goes, forced to buy inordinately priced and unsuccessful seeds each year, farmers sink more and more into debt, their soils become barren and toxic, and, sadly, many take their own lives.
Trail of destruction
The United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that up to 77 million non-organic cotton workers suffer poisoning from pesticides each year, with more than one million agricultural workers, worldwide, requiring hospitalisation annually. In fact, non-organic cotton is also responsible for the release of $US2 billion of chemical pesticides every year – more than any other single crop worldwide. And in our atmosphere, for every kilo of raw non-organic cotton, each plant uses a kilo of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, which produces 'N2O', a greenhouse gas that's 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Along the supply chain of regular cotton production and manufacturing, tens of thousands of acutely toxic chemicals are used, including chemical dyes, heavy metals, formaldehyde and aromatic solvent. Many of these are classified as hazardous and toxic by the WHO and, sadly, are associated with a range of allergies, skin rashes, respiratory problems, cancer, birth defects, and hormonal and reproductive effects.
Yet, what is staggering is that all of this ends up in our soils, in our waterways, in our clothes, in our towels, in our sheets, in our skin and, subsequently, in our bodies.
To further add to the devastation, there are the issues of poor working conditions and child labour practices, which are rife in the cycle of mere existence for many people on the planet struggling to grow the cotton that we wear and use every day.
As consumers, by opting for certified organic cotton, we can nurture our fragile environment, restore a balance in humanity with strict fair-trade practices and provide compassion to the Earth by not using or harming any animal life in any of our products.
The key is to look for certified organic cotton as opposed to just 'natural' cotton, or 'pure' cotton. Here, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is recognised as the leading worldwide processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres. This defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire supply chain of organic textiles and requires compliance with strict social-driven criteria as well. Independent third-party certification is also required across the supply chain - from seed to finish. Only then can legitimate ‘organic’ claims be made on the final products.
Simply stated, certified organic cotton is produced without the use of any harmful chemicals, insecticides and pesticides. No genetically modified seeds can be used, nor can any toxic dyes, bleaches or finishes. This not only ensures the lowest possible environmental impact but a deep sense of social justice, through fair-trade practices, as well. In terms of the end product, you're also getting cotton in its absolute purest form – extremely soft yet resilient and gentle on the skin, which is an absolute necessity for anyone unfortunate enough to suffer from a skin condition.
Do you know what is your eco footprint? We would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Note: This article originally was posted on the Market Magazine http://marqet.com.au/magazine/cotton-on-to-your-eco-footprint/
About the Author: Vinita is the Founder of Bhumi Organic Cotton and passionate about an Earth Life Balance.