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The Environmental Impact Of Cotton

June 07, 2019 2 min read

The Environmental Impact Of Cotton

Cotton, is "natural" and therefore always good?

Cotton is one of the most common materials in clothing and bedding. It is easy to think that natural materials, such as cotton, are good for nature. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. The cotton plant needs a lot of sun to grow and about 200 frost-free days, that is, a fairly warm climate. Much of the cotton we buy is grown in southern Asia. The plant also needs a lot of water, which means that irrigation is usually required.

Water

When cultivating cotton, huge amounts of water are used for irrigation, but also when the cotton is to be processed into fabric, much water is required. For example, about 2,700 liters of water are used on average for a t-shirt and about 11,000 liters to make a pair of jeans. The problem is that in many countries where cotton is grown, pure water is a scarce commodity, so even if the cotton gets enough water, it is not certain that those who live there will get it. One of the most telling examples is the Aral Sea, which was once the earth's fourth largest lake, but which today only has about 10 percent of the original amount of water left because of intensive cotton cultivation in the area.

 

Chemicals

On the cotton farms, a lot of pesticides are used to keep insects and weeds away. Cotton crops make up just 2.5 percent of the world's cultivated farmland, but 25 percent of the agricultural chemicals used are spread on the cotton fields. It is about pesticides with dangerous chemicals that damage the cotton growers and the environment.

When the cotton is harvested, additional chemicals are often required to produce textile fibers and to bleach, color and apply pressure to the fabric. Garments that are transported far are treated with chemicals so as not to mold on the road. When the garment is purchased, there is a risk that residues of the dangerous chemicals will remain and affect the wearer through the skin. Some chemicals are worn away instead and end up in dust that we breathe.

 

What can I do?

* Do not dispose of clothes / bedding unnecessarily without trying to repair them if they break or give them if you get tired of the look.

* Choose other fibers. There are materials that are produced in a way that is better for the environment and does not require as much water. For example, lyocell.

* Buy second hand. Second hand clothes are used and washed so the chemicals that were in the textile are largely gone. In addition, the environmental impact is reduced as no new product is produced for you.

* Spread the knowledge to friends and family.