Should I Care About Organic Cotton

Sophie Heller

Posted on September 17 2018

cotton field

The Dirty Truth About Cotton

I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that cotton is the most popular fabric in the world, making up 50% of the world’s fiber consumption and almost definitely a space in your closet. So what’s the story behind our cheap cotton tees? Is organic cotton really worth the investment?

The short answer is yes, organic cotton really is that much better.

The Dirtiest Crop on Earth

In an effort to keep up with the demand for this wildly popular crop, farmers use hazardous amounts of synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals to make the cotton grow faster. Annually, conventional cotton production accounts for 16% of global insecticide use and uses $2 billion of pesticides each year, compared to it’s mere 2.5% global land share, more than any other single major crop. This quarter pound of chemicals dedicated to each tee-shirt, has earned cotton’s title as dirtiest crop in the world.

cotton pesticides

Pesticides are a major global killer; in 2017 the UN estimated that pesticides kill 200,000 people a year. They contaminate the soil we grow our crops in, the air we breathe and the water we drink.

About 220 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are released into our atmosphere each year due to the global consumption of cotton. Conventional cotton farming requires more than 10,000 liters of water to produce a single pair of jeans. Ten thousand liters when in stark contrast we see 1 in 9 people without access to safe water.

Someone is Paying the Price

It is estimated that 100 million households are engaged in growing and producing cotton and 300 million individuals work in other parts of the cotton industry, mostly in developing countries. They usually work in extreme conditions for long hours, constantly exposed to dangerous amounts of insecticides and pesticides. Farmers either earn very low wages or are struggling with unsustainable debts because they are unable to keep up with employer demands.

Some of the challenges that these workers face are climate change, which has been causing unpredictable weather patterns and access to water for many years, and artificially low prices, generated by government subsidies for cotton farmers in rich countries like the U.S, that small-scale farmers cannot compete with.

Hopelessness has hit so low in regions particularly reliant on cotton crops that suicide rates are high among the farmers. In 2013 alone, 11,772 farmers in India committed suicide. That’s 44 people a day. We know that the cost our cotton clothes is much more than the cheap price tag, so the question is what can we do with that awareness?

Organic Cotton as an Alternative


Although the cotton situation looks grim, organic cotton is a safe, sustainable alternative. Organic cotton farming produces 45% less CO2e compared to conventional cotton. About 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions accounted for by conventional cotton are on the consumer end, from manufacturing to transporting, or simply how you wash your clothing.

So while organic cotton is a great alternative, if you already have conventional cotton at home, a simple way to reduce your personal footprint is to opt for cold water when washing your clothes. While certain clothes require warm or hot water, many can be cleaned just as well in cold water which also saves energy and marks one step closer to a healthy planet.  

Aside from being a more sustainable option for the environment, organic cotton farming doesn’t require toxic pesticides and insecticides, producing a safer, cleaner fabric for your body. Organic agriculture has more regulations in place to protect farmers and fair trading. By supporting organic cotton brands, you are helping to protect the health of people and our planet.

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