Green Living: Why Does Organic Cotton Matter?

You don't really eat it. It is usually grown for clothes and cotton seed oil - so why does it matter if you buy organic cotton? Conventionally grown cotton has many negative connotations that would make you think twice before mindlessly buying new clothes:

- Conventional cotton occupies only 3% of the world’s farmland, but uses 25% of the world’s chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

- Natural biodiversity in pesticide heavy, cotton growing areas is greatly reduced.

- Cattle fed on cotton leaves, or oil cake made from cotton seeds, can be poisoned and even die.

- A lot of conventionally grown cotton is GM cotton which greatly threatens environmental stability, biodiversity as well as the small farmers.

- Conventionally produced cotton products require a lot of harmful post-process chemicals that are still left in it at the time of purchase and use.

Keeping all of this in mind it is essential to make the switch towards organic cotton. It is not easy for many of us because it is priced higher, but the few extra dollars are worth it. There are several companies that have been investing in organic cotton. International retail sales of organic cotton apparel and home-textile products were worth an estimated $4.3 billion in 2009. The biggest buyer of organic cotton in 2009 was Wal-Mart.

Other top buyers included, Zara, H&M, Nike, Coop Switzerland, Pottery Barn and Anvil Knitwear. These are all companies with impressive portfolio when it comes to usage of organic cotton. Anvil Knitwear made the world's first carbon neutral t-shirt. Pottery Barn uses organic cotton in its bedding and bath towels. Nike offers a line of 100% organic t-shirts and is starting to use at least 5% organic cotton in all its cotton containing products. Another company called Greensource manufactures certified organic denim and t-shirts. Other big organic cotton companies include German-based Hessnatur and Belgian-based C&A.

Green Babies is an organic cotton company that caters exclusively for babies. It was started 15 years ago by a husband and wife team and retails baby clothes as well organic cotton clothes for younger children. Do U Speak Green is India's first web-based mail-order service from where you can buy organic cotton and bamboo clothing. They not only donate 10% of their sales towards environmental conservation, they also ensure that no chemicals are used in the manufacturing process.

Organic cotton also provides a better deal for farmers not just with lowered pesticide costs and health risks. Cotton workers have to deal with an enormous number of health conditions caused by pesticides. Those working with GM cotton have reported skin and respiratory issues. Pollen from GM cotton is known to cross-pollinate, thereby contaminating organic and conventional cotton causing economic losses. Secondary products of GM cotton like leaves, seed cake etc cannot be fed to cattle: there have been reports in India of cattle dying after accidentally grazing in fields of GM cotton. According to the latest figures released by Textile Exchange organic cotton showed a 15% growth in spite of the recession.

Consumer demand must also increase, so that the growth in organic cotton will not plateau. Something to account for on the next shopping spree.

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan  Thanks to Sandra Marquardt  and Textile Exchange for the latest figures.