Dear Recyclebank: What’s the difference between organic cotton and conventional cotton? –Marjory K.
Dear Marjory: Organic cotton is different from conventional cotton in some important ways:
1. Organic cotton production does not use insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified (GMO) or chemically treated seed, or synthetic fertilizers. This is better for the health of farmers and manufacturers as well as the health of consumers and the planet.
2. Organic cotton is hand picked rather than machine picked, ensuring less wastage and also longer cotton fibers, which make organic cotton clothing softer and more durable.
3. The process of organic farming in comparison to conventional farming is substantially more resource efficient.
These advantages are why eco-conscious consumers seek out organic cotton over conventional cotton.
Organic cotton farming uses 71 percent less water and 62 percent less energy than its conventional counterpart. According to a peer-reviewed life-cycle analysis initiated by Textile Exchange (a non-profit that focuses on minimizing the harmful impacts of the global textile industry), producing organic cotton for an average sized t-shirt resulted in a savings of 1,982 gallons of water per shirt compared to the amount required by conventional cotton.
Another reason to buy organic cotton as opposed to conventional cotton is to reduce the demand for a product that accounts for 16 percent of the world’s insecticides. Conventional cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop in the world! According to the World Health Organization, these chemicals are responsible for up to 20,000 deaths each year in developing countries. In addition to its substantial use of insecticide, conventional cotton makes up 16 percent of the worlds pesticide application. These chemicals, and the synthetic fertilizers used to increase crop yield, leach into the soil, polluting the water table, and ultimately, the ocean.
In addition to choosing organic over conventional, be mindful of a garment’s quality. Stay away from fast-fashion that is cheaply made and cheaply priced. By shopping more critically you will develop a relationship to the garments you select. By purchasing high-quality clothing you’re setting yourself up to get years of use instead of just a season or two.
While making more environmentally friendly clothing choices in the future is something you should aim for, the greenest clothing choice is the garment you already have in your closet. The best way to reduce your wardrobe’s impact on the environment is to keep it from growing. By maintaining the quality of the clothes you already own you’ll ensure you don’t need to buy new items. To extend the life of your wardrobe, follow the instructions on the care labels, store them mindfully, and hang them to dry when possible — in addition to preventing fabric damage from the dryer’s heat, you’ll also reduce your electricity use; thus reducing your carbon footprint!
When it finally comes time to part with an article of clothing, consider donating it to a thrift or consignment store. If your old clothes are too worn for resale, instead of sending them to the landfill, recycle them.
Textiles can be recycled into insulation material, carpet padding, paper, and yarn. American Textile Recycling Service offers drop boxes across the country where you can recycle your old clothes. If you can’t find a drop box, just head down to your local H&M. Every H&M store worldwide provides garment collecting boxes, where you can bring any brand clothing in to be recycled. In 2017 alone they collected the equivalent of 89 million T-shirts. If none of these solutions are practical for you, your 100% cotton garments can be composted! Just make sure they’re shredded finely.
Choosing organic cotton over conventional cotton is a simple way to lessen your wardrobe’s impact on the environment while benefiting farmers and textile workers. To further reduce your footprint, remember to shop for longevity and recycle old clothing.