Why Organic Cotton?
Lisa at LittleLeaf
My blog about the many benefits of organic cotton
Why On Earth Ignore the Many Benefits of Organic Cotton?
Many of us are convinced by the arguments in favour of organic food, but struggle to make the leap to applying organic principles to our clothing. The benefits haven’t been as widely publicised as they have been for the food we eat. As a family, we think we’re fairly eco-minded, [About Us] but we hadn’t heard of organic cotton until about four years ago, and so realised there must be lots of other like-minded people out there who hadn’t yet heard of it too.
Pesticide-free and more environmentally-friendly
Organic cotton is grown and made without the use of harmful pesticides or toxic chemicals. Most of us would prefer not to put food that has been sprayed with pesticides and chemicals into our bodies. It follows surely that we’d prefer not to put clothes and fabric that has been steeped in chemicals on our bodies and against our skin. Non-organic cotton has been called the world’s dirtiest crop and uses 16% of all insecticides globally (UK Soil Association). Organic cotton on the other hand works with nature, not against it, avoids the use of pesticides, uses far less water and helps to keep water safe and clean. It produces far less greenhouse gas than conventional cotton manufacture, maintains healthy soils and helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere. As the Soil Association says, organic represents “more of the good stuff” – and less of the bad.
“Non-organic cotton has been called “the world’s dirtiest crop”and uses 16% of all insecticides globally”
The UK Soil Association
Better for the people who grow and sew the cotton
The workers who pick organic cotton in the fields and work in organic cotton factories are therefore not exposed to harmful chemicals either. At LittleLeaf, we only work with GOTS-registered factories. That’s the Global Organic Textile Standard, a certifying body with the highest environmental standards, which ensures that workers are not exposed to the harsh toxins that are used in the growing and production of conventional, non-organic cotton. As GOTS says: “GOTS prohibits the use of the kinds of chemicals commonly used in textile processing that can cause cancer, birth defects and other serious illnesses. Chemicals, like persistent hormone-disrupting substances, also destroy eco-systems and bio-diversity on an international scale. Workers are not exposed to toxic chemicals when working with GOTS-certified inputs and practices.” (from the Why GOTS? FAQ page: What Consumers Get From The Global Organic Textile Standard).
“healthy soil, healthy people, healthy planet”
UK SOIL ASSOCIATION
A Shocking List of Toxic Chemicals
The type of pesticides generally used in non-organic cotton farming are a broad range of organophosphates (originally developed as toxic nerve agents during World War II) and carbamate pesticides (Organic Authority). The World Health Organisation has found that three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production. All but one of the remaining seven most commonly used are classified as moderately to highly hazardous. Once the non-organic cotton has been grown, converting it into clothing can also involve a toxic chemical cocktail – harsh petroleum scours, softeners, brighteners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia and formaldehyde, to name just a few in this shocking list.
Better For Health
A UN report published in January last year estimated that 200,000 people around the world die from toxic exposure to pesticides each year. Although this refers to all pesticides used on all crops, as non-organic cotton production is so pesticide-heavy, it’s clearly responsible for a disproportionate number of these deaths. One of the worst chemical offenders is Aldicarb, cotton’s second best-selling insecticide and acutely poisonous to humans and wildlife. This is still used in 25 countries and it’s reported that a single drop of Aldicarb absorbed through the skin can kill an adult. Cotton pesticides so toxic that they were banned under the Soviet regime are still being used in Uzbekistan, a country which is a huge cotton exporter. (Environmental Justice Foundation).
Better for Sensitive Skin
If there are so many harmful chemicals used in the production of non-organic cotton, it follows that traces of such chemicals can be found in the clothes we wear every day. With so many products made from cotton, we are all bound to come into contact with these harmful toxins at some point. Organic cotton by contrast is gentler and softer on our skin, which is particularly important when it comes to babies, since their skin and respiratory systems are even more vulnerable to any toxic substances they come in contact with. It’s not surprising that allergies are becoming more and more common. If you suffer from eczema or any skin allergy, you should definitely consider switching to organic cotton.
Better for the Environment and More Sustainable
Apart from the direct impact on human health, the UN report also draws attention to the longer-term environmental impact of such heavy use of pesticides: “Pesticides sprayed on crops frequently pollute the surrounding ecosystem and beyond, with unpredictable ecological consequences. Furthermore, reductions in pest populations upset the complex balance between predator and prey species in the food chain. Pesticides can also decrease biodiversity of soils and contribute to nitrogen fixation, which can lead to large declines in crop yields, posing problems for food security.”
GOTS certification also means that good working practices have been followed throughout the production process, from field to factory and on to the finished product. This is crucially important to us at LittleLeaf, which is why we only work with GOTS registered factories. GOTS’ social criteria are based on the International Labour Organisation’s key conventions which include a ban on child and forced labour and include provisions such as having systems in place to prove they are addressing social concerns, such as grievances. Factories registered and certified by GOTS pay fair wages and give workers paid holiday. It’s reassuring and good to know that you can buy organic cotton safe in the knowledge that everyone involved in its manufacture has been dealt with fairly, they haven’t been exposed to toxins and pesticides and no child has been employed to help produce your clothes. The GOTS logo signifies that the fabric has been made by farms and factories meeting the highest environmental and social standards currently available. When we set up LittleLeaf we wanted to ensure that everyone we deal with is treated fairly. Farmers and manufacturers should not be exposed to harmful chemicals and sub-standard working practices in order to produce our clothes. That’s why the social conditions required under the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) are just as important to us as the organic requirements.
A Natural Product?
So while we have traditionally thought of cotton (that’s the non-organic, ordinary kind) as a good thing, a natural product and therefore relatively environmentally-friendly, I hope I’ve shown you that it’s anything BUT these things. If you want these natural reassurances, choose 100% organic cotton, and if you want to make sure it was ethically produced, choose organic cotton certified by GOTS.
Better Sheets and Better Baby Clothes
Finally if you need any more convincing, organic cotton is simply a better product – softer, longer-lasting and beautiful against your skin than non-organic cotton. As it’s grown for longer, hasn’t had any chemicals sprayed on it and is generally picked by hand, organic cotton is made from much stronger and longer fibres, which in turn make much softer garments.
The durability of organic cotton is often commented on, as its softness is said actually to improve with washing. So apart from all the environmental and social advantages, when you choose to buy organic cotton you are indulging yourself (or your baby) with a top quality, luxuriously soft fabric.
“The aim of the standard is to define world-wide recognized requirements that ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer.”
GOTS (GLOBAL ORGANIC TEXTILE STANDARD)
The Ethical Choice
I’m aware that this post has a lot of very gloomy information in it…but the good news is that you can do something about it! By choosing organic cotton registered by GOTS, you’ll be supporting those farms and factories trying to do things better. Always look for the GOTS symbol when you choose organic cotton products – its logo is a sign that sustainable practices have been followed, and production has involved a supply chain that is fair.
You Can Make a Difference!
When you buy GOTS certified organic cotton, you are doing your bit to support those people who are doing it right, mainly in countries where it’s a lot cheaper and easier to do it wrong. You’ll be supporting farming practices that avoid pesticides, thereby reducing production costs and farming debts. You’ll be doing your bit to help build soil fertility, locking more CO2 into the soil and reducing emissions. The GOTS logo means hazardous chemicals associated with health problems for workers haven’t been used, and it ensures better working conditions through regulated minimum wages, working hours and prohibiting child labour. And you can rest assured that the end product doesn’t contain allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues.
LittleLeaf is all about ethically produced organic cotton – that’s the only thing we do
In time we hope to expand our range of organic cotton products, but for the moment we’ve launched with babywear and bedding because this seemed a logical place to start – when making the leap to buying organic fabric, you probably would look first to what you put on your baby’s delicate skin, and what you yourself spend a third of your life lying on while asleep.
More Affordable Organic Cotton
The main counter-argument against buying organic cotton is the higher cost – it does cost more to grow cotton more naturally and to ensure fair wages and working conditions. However, first of all, a slightly higher cost is definitely worth it for all the advantages it brings. Secondly, the price will inevitably come down the more demand there is, which in turn will mean more farms and factories will decide to adopt these practices. But at LittleLeaf Organic we’re very aware of the cost issue and are trying to make this premium, beautiful product more affordable. The price of our sheets and pillowcases in particular is very competitive – in fact, we’ve yet to come across any organic cotton sheets and pillowcases of comparable high quality that cost less! So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and treat yourself, your baby or a friend to some beautiful LittleLeaf Organic Cotton and do yourself and the planet a favour!
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