Cotton is often associated with clean, natural, and sustainable living. It is a fibre best known for its comfort, long durability, moisture control, and hypoallergenic qualities. However, there's quite a few things I bet you didn't know about the textile used to produce nearly half of all garments worldwide. Cotton is one of the most detrimental materials used by the fashion industry, that has a negative impact on the environment and our well-being.
There are three main factors why cotton is way overrated:
1. Cotton farming requires incredibly vast water resources - it can take up to 8,000 litres of water to produce one pair of jeans.
2. Chemicals used in cotton dyeing pollutes fresh water streams in developing world countries where clean water supply is extremely scarce.
3. Pesticides used in maintaining healthy cotton plants have been proven to have a detrimental impact on our health. That's right, there can still be pesticide residues in your brand new cotton shirt up till you do a first wash.
Let's talk about pesticides a little bit further. Here's what you need to know about the chemicals used to produce the clothes you wear:
Cotton farmers use a vast amount of toxic materials to make sure their crop is safe from insects, weeds, and diseases. To be exact, cotton industry accounts for 16% of insecticides released globally each year. This equals to 1 kilogram of toxic spray applied for every hectare of annual harvest. There's $2 billion-worth of pesticides spread on our future sweaters and jeans per annum, $819m of which is classified as hazardous.
What's the big issue?
Herbicides and pesticides are incredibly dangerous. Take Glyphosate as an example. It's a widely used herbicide found in majority of Monsanto's weedkiller products, and it's been labeled as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. Or what about aldicarb? It's used in textile production all over the world, the USA in particular, where 1 million kg was applied to cotton fields in 2003. One drop of aldicarb can kill an adult if absorbed through the skin!
Of particular risk to human health is a class of insecticides which act by disrupting the enzyme acetyl-cholinesterase, a molecule essential for the proper functioning of both the insect and human nervous system. This category includes the insecticides aldicarb, parathion, and methamidophos – all of which are among the top 10 pesticides applied by cotton farmers globally. By disrupting the activity of acetylcholinesterase these insecticides prevent individual nerve cells from communicating with one another, thereby impairing nervous co-ordination, and leading to symptoms ranging from tremors, nausea, and weakness to paralysis and death.
Read more about pesticides and their impact on our neurosystem HERE.
Remains of chemicals used to produce a pair of jeans we're wearing right now eventually end up on our skin one way or another. Polluted rainwater is one of them. Scientists found that there were 19 different chemicals found in Brazil's precipitation, of which 12 were applied in cotton fields within the tested area. I mean.. Imagine how many chemicals are released into different water streams worldwide on a daily basis. It all evaporates and turns into rain water eventually.
Millions of cottonseeds (23 million tonnes per annum, to be precise) with pesticide remains on them aren't left behind after the harvest - farmers use cottonseeds to extract oil or feed to animals. Is there anything better than a juicy herbicide-infused burger patty for lunch? Don't think so.
All these issues are created because of excessive demand for cotton by the consumers of fast fashion. We can keep ignoring big environmental matters and continue doing retail therapy on a weekly basis, however we're not only harming the world, we're harming ourselves.
Stop buying cheap high-street stuff you're gonna chuck out within next few months. Do your research. Make sure you wear what you deserve!