Organic cotton is known to be less harmful for the earth than conventional cotton. But just how green is it?

In recent years, there has a groundswell of interest in products and foods that are responsibly produced and as friendly as possible to the earth, affectionately known as the green movement. It can be difficult to quantify or even qualify just how beneficial these green products actually are, and the meaning associated with words like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ can be confusing or worse, deceptive. Interest in organically produced cotton has grown considerably and this article will look at some of the perceived benefits of organic cotton vs conventionally grown cotton.

Perhaps the largest area of discrepancy between conventional and organic cotton lies in the use of chemicals. It is accepted that 1/3 pound of chemicals is required to produce a single t-shirt using conventional agriculture. In fact, conventionally grown cotton uses 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and 10 percent of all chemicals used in agriculture worldwide. Conversely, organic cotton uses only natural means of control such as crop rotation, hand or mechanical weeding, intercropping, mulches, or beneficial insects. This saves farmers money by not buying chemicals, and it prevents harmful chemicals from ending up in water, air, and finished products. With the demand for organic clothing rising, especially for organic kids clothes and organic toddler clothes the value to farmers is being realized for these crops.

Water usage can vary considerably between conventional and organic cotton, and neither appears to be a clear victor in this area. It has been reported that in the process of a grow field switching to organic agriculture, it may in fact use more water than before. However, this increased water usage is short term, and it has been found that organic fields have higher quality soils, thus the need for water is effectively reduced. In addition, the use of chemicals on conventional cotton generally requires water as a carrier, and municipalities removing these agricultural chemicals from the water supply report the need for more treatment.

Another area worthy of consideration is cost. It is generally accepted that organic cotton costs between 10 and 45 percent more than conventionally grown cotton. However, this cost fails to recognize harm done to air and water resources, or their inevitable impact on human health. While these things are difficult to quantify, there is no doubt that the chemicals used in conventional cotton production, many of which are known carcinogens, end up in the water and air cycle, thus contributing to human health problems. In addition, the costs and energy pollution associated with shipping finished cotton are relevant to this calculus. Obviously, organic cotton grown halfway around the world has a higher shipping impact than locally sourced conventional cotton. However, domestic production of organic cotton continues to grow, and sourcing organic cotton from the USA and Mexico are easier than ever before.

Another problem area for organic cotton comes in the form of chemical dyes. While the cotton may be produced organically, the dyes used in garment manufacturing may contain such nasty chemicals as iron, tin, potassium, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals, benzene, and organochlorides. These chemicals effectively nullify many of the beneficial characteristics otherwise associated with organic cotton. The good news is that many manufacturers using organic cotton have committed to using dyes and inks free of the aforementioned chemicals, and processes such as GOTS certification ensure that none of these harsh chemicals make their way into end products.

katebaby clothes is an organic kid’s clothes line based in Aspen, CO offering a fresh take on essential threads. We are introducing a new line of organic baby pajamas, tees, blankets, bibs, toddler clothes, baby gifts, designer baby clothes and accessories.

Share This Post

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.