Cotton has to be a good material right? It’s made from a naturally grown fibre so it must be renewable and sustainable? Well, yes and no. Although cotton is indeed a natural fibre and therefore will breakdown and biodegrade eventually, it goes through a lot to get being an item of clothing. It takes a huge amount of water to grow and if you add dying into the process the amount of water needed to make a t-shirt is the same as what's needed by one person to drink for 2.5 years!! This dying process also often pollutes the surrounding waterways such as rivers and oceans damaging both the plant and marine life. Non-organic cotton is one of the heaviest users of pesticides and insecticides in the world, 12% and 25 % respectively. There are many health risks to surrounding communities and people when it comes to the use of these too, including birth defects, reproductive disorders and weaker immune systems. The C02 emissions of one cotton tshirt is 2.6kg.
The Aral sea used to be the fourth largest lake in the world but has now mostly dried up. This is in large part because of irrigation projects using the water to grow cotton in an unsustainable way. This had a pretty big negative impact on the people living in that area too because they depended on that water for their daily lives and now they’re left dealing with a lack of water to drink and grow food.
One in five cotton garments is tainted by forced labour. This means the people working with cotton are doing so against their will and often under threat of punishment. Most of the worlds cotton production happens in China so it also has to be transported very long distances.
Thankfully organic cotton is far better for the environment and the people who work with it. It means none of the pesticides are being used and it needs less water. This is because the farming method used means the soil is being looked after better, it’s more full of plant matter and therefore it dries out less quickly.
So what can you do? Well, really, to wear sustainable clothes you should always go pre-loved first but if not that then choosing organic cotton is a good second choice. Keep your clothes longer and repair them.