Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics around the world. It is a natural fiber found in many wardrobe staples such as jeans, t-shirts and blouses. Because of cotton being one of the most commonly used materials in the fashion industry, reducing the negative impact its production has on the environment is essential.
Even though it is a completely natural product and can biodegrade, its production is nevertheless claimed to be highly polluting, exploiting and workers have very poor conditions.
There are different types of cotton available, including conventional cotton, organic cotton, certified organic cotton, and recycled cotton. Each type has its own unique characteristics and benefits, and it's important to understand the differences between them when making purchasing decisions as different types of cotton can have varying degrees of environmental impact and social responsibility. In this article, we'll explore the differences between these four types of cotton.
Conventional cotton refers to the traditional method of growing cotton, which involves the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. This method is designed to maximize yields and profits, but it comes at a cost to the environment and human health. Conventional cotton farming is associated with soil degradation, water pollution, and the depletion of natural resources. Additionally, the chemicals used in conventional cotton farming have been linked to health problems for farmers.
Organic Cotton and Certified Organic cotton
Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, or other harmful chemicals. Instead, farmers rely on natural methods such as crop rotation, intercropping, and the use of beneficial insects to manage pests and improve soil health. Organic cotton farming is designed to minimise the environmental impact of cotton production. By avoiding the use of chemicals, organic cotton farming helps to protect biodiversity, reduce water pollution, and conserve natural resources.
Certified organic cotton is grown according to strict standards set by independent organisations such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). GOTS certified cotton is always organic cotton. Standards such as GOTS require that farmers use only natural methods to manage pests and improve soil health, and they prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Instead, farmers use natural techniques such as crop rotation, companion planting, and biological pest control to manage their crops. To be certified organic, cotton must be grown and processed in a way that meets these standards, and it must be verified by an independent third-party organisation.
This certification guarantees that the cotton has been grown and processed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
Non-certified organic cotton, on the other hand, may still be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or GMOs, but it has not been verified by a third-party organization. Without certification, you cannot verify that the cotton meets organic standards or that it has been grown and processed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
In summary, the main difference between certified organic cotton and non-certified organic cotton is the level of verification and assurance that the cotton has been grown and processed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
Recycled cotton is made from pre-consumer or post-consumer waste, such as scraps from textile mills or old clothing. This waste is collected, sorted, and processed into new fibers that can be used to create new textiles. Recycled cotton is a more environment friendly alternative to virgin cotton because it reduces the need for new cotton production, which can have a significant environmental impact. Additionally, recycling cotton reduces waste, water consumption, CO2 emissions and the use of chemicals in the textile industry. According to the Textile Exchange's Preferred Fiber and Materials Market Report 2021 recycled cotton is a much more responsible alternative to both conventional and organic cotton, as it reduces water and energy consumption as well as keeps the cotton clothes out of landfills.