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    Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton

    Pick your cotton carefully, lives depend on it

    Cotton’s soft and fluffy fibres have been woven into clothing for well over 5,000 years, yet in the last seventy years an entirely new set of problems have arisen – and fast fashion is largely to blame.

    Every year 29 billion kilograms of cotton is produced, the equivalent of 29 t-shirts per person.

    Due to soaring demand for the natural fibres of the cotton plant, which is notoriously low yielding, an estimated 99%2 of the world’s farmers have turned to artificial pesticides and fertilizers for speed, efficiency, and survival.

    Cotton crops cover 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land, yet they use a disproportionate 16% of the world’s insecticides and 6% of its pesticides.

    In addition to this the chemically treated cotton crops, 99% of which are grown in developing countries, are a major water guzzler and drink up a staggering 3% of the world’s fresh water supply.

    One kilogram of cotton, roughly the weight of a shirt and a pair of jeans – uses approximately 10,000 to 20,000 litres of water to grow, that’s 150 bathtubs full.

    With aquifers and rivers senselessly diverted onto the thirsty non-organic cotton crops, impoverished communities are left unable to access clean water or grow their own food. Any water supply that they do have access to is most likely polluted by the pesticides used on the nearby fields.

    A prime example of this is the Indus river in Pakistan where 90% of its water, about 3.35 trillion litres6 (737 billion gallons), is diverted into cotton production every year leaving thousands suffering unnecessary droughts.

    The same is true for the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. What was once a large expanse of lake with a thriving washing industry has gradually dried up to almost nothing over the last 40 years, mostly due to the irrigation of water onto cotton fields.

    Cotton crops cover 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land, yet they use a disproportionate 16% of the world’s insecticides and 6% of its pesticides.

    So what’s so bad about pesticides?

    It’s true that bug-killing pesticides are an efficient way for struggling farmers to maximize their profits in the short term, however the price paid by the planet and everyone involved far outweighs this benet.

    The chemicals sprayed onto the crops are extremely toxic, with just a single drop of the pesticide Aldicarb able to kill an adult if it touches the skin, the Environmental Justice Foundation reports.

    Defoliants are also routinely used to remove the cotton plant’s foliage and ensure the boll pops open to reveal the bres before harvesting.

    The use of similar defoliant chemicals, including the devastating Agent Orange of the Vietnam War, is illegal in many country’s warfare laws due to their toxicity and carcinogenic qualities, yet they remain permitted in cotton farming. Go figure.

    Approximately 1,000 people die everyday from acute pesticide poisoning, with the chemicals proven to cause cancer, leukemia, miscarriages, neurological diseases and infertility in the humans they reach.

    Consider this, if the pesticides used to grow your $5 T-shirt posed a risk of cancer to you when you wore it… Would you wear it?

    Pesticides also destroy flora and fauna causing a catastrophic collapse of entire ecological systems when they escape into the air, leach into the soil, pollute the water supply, and ultimately enter the food chain.

    The deadly effects of these chemicals, which are used in over 25 countries worldwide, are clearly demonstrated in the communities who live nearby to non-organic cotton fields.

    This is sadly the case for those living in regions surrounding the Aral Sea, which have the highest rates of throat cancer in the world due to the pesticides used on their cotton fields.

    In the world’s second largest cotton producer, Uzbekistan – where a third of the population work for the cotton industry – the country’s dictatorship has permitted the use of pesticides so damaging to human health that they were banned by the Soviets.

    At least 1 million agricultural workers worldwide are hospitalized with pesticide poisoning each year, and another 77 million farmers suer acute pesticide poisoning, experiencing seizures, tremors, headaches, vomiting or difficulty breathing, a report by the FAO, UNEP and WHO found.

    In India, where over one third of the world’s cotton farmers live, cotton fields fill just 5% of agricultural land, but account for 54% of all pesticides annually, the Environmental Justice Foundation reports.

    Sadly, most of these farmers and themselves dragged into debt by companies that monopolise the country’s commercial seed market, selling only genetically modified cotton seed that requires pesticides to grow.

    Desperate to stop the crops from falling victim to pests like bollworm, farmers buy agrochemicals on credit at the start of the year, paying up to 60% of their salary for the chemicals.

    If the crops fail year on year due to drought or excess rain, a seemingly insurmountable pile of debt begins to form.

    This directly correlates to a high rate of suicides among Indian farmers, with a farmer in India taking their own life every 30 minutes.

    But is organic cotton really so much better?

    Yes, it really is. Organic cotton is still a thirsty plant, but it requires 91% less water than conventional cotton due to having a healthier soil structure (without pesticides) that acts like a sponge retaining water and nutrients.

    Organic farmers generally rely on rainfall to provide around 90% of the water their cotton crops need. The climate of the growing location is given more consideration before planting in organic farming.

    Organic cotton also uses 63% less produced energy, reduces pollution of waterways by 26%, releases 46% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and poses 70% less potential for acid rain.

    If that isn’t enough reason to make the switch… then maybe comfort is? Organic cotton is much softer to the touch than conventionally farmed cotton. This is because it is handpicked, which avoids the plant’s long fibres breaking or weakening with the use of machinery.

    Farmers of organic cotton don’t use GM seeds, destructive pesticides, or artificial fertilizers that contribute to greenhouse gases by releasing nitrous oxide into the air.

    Instead, they use scientific methods and innovative approaches to efficiently harness the same natural systems and processes that have been used for thousands of years.

    These processes include crop rotation, which is the practice of growing a mixture of crops on the same patch of land one after the other.

    Crop rotation helps to replace artificial fertilizers as the crops deposit different compounds into the ground. For example; legumes such as lentils, peas, and chickpeas, x essential nitrogen into the soil.

    Other methods include composting and intercropping, the practice of growing two crops side by side to get the most out of the land, build propensity in the soil, and crowd out weeds to avoid the need for pesticides.

    Another major benet is that organic farmers are far healthier because they are not subject to toxic carcinogens on a daily basis.

    Despite having less product to sell because of the lower yield of organic cotton crops, organic farmers generally have a steadier income and supply of food, with a variety of crops able to be grown on their fertile and pesticide-free land.

    On top of this, organic farming also helps to secure the prosperity of the land for future generations.

    If conventional cotton farmers continue to use artificial inputs as they are, their land will become barren and will no longer be viable for crops in the decades to come, The UK’s Soil Association predicts.

    This means that organic farming really is the only viable way forward for the cotton industry.

    Cotton is the world’s most commonly used fibre, followed by polyester. If grown organically, natural cotton is far more sustainable than its man-made alternatives, which create plastic pollution.

    So what can you do?

    Buying organic is better for the people who grow it, the planet, and everybody on it.

    With your eyes wide open to the hard facts it is far easier to spot and avoid poor quality mass-produced cotton clothing that is unethically designed to be ‘disposable’.

    Also be aware of your consumption of disposable cotton products, such as cotton earbuds, cotton face pads and those free cotton tote bags you get given but never actually use.

    When buying cotton ensure that it is 100% organic, not a 10% to 20% mix of more expensive organic cotton thrown in with (dirty) conventional cotton in a lazy effort to ‘greenwash’ the product.

    The stringent laws that apply to labelling food organic do not cover ‘organic’ textiles.

    This can mean that some products labelled ‘organic’, ‘more sustainable’, ‘responsible’ or ‘green’ are in fact hiding a range of environmentally damaging practices.

    Buying products that are certified with the GOTS symbol, the Global Organic Textiles Standard can help to avoid this trickery.

    The origins and certifications of Hues’ cotton products can be easily viewed by using your phone to scan the sewn-in chip.

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    Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton

    At least 1 million agricultural workers worldwide are hospitalized with pesticide poisoning each year, and another 77 million farmers suer acute pesticide poisoning, experiencing seizures, tremors, headaches, vomiting or difficulty breathing, a report by the FAO, UNEP and WHO found.

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