Organic Fabrics – What are They and Why Should We Use Them?
By Nikki MacCallum, NikkiDesigns
We are all familiar with the term “organic” when it comes to food. But do you know what it means for a fabric to be organic? And why should we care?
In the first part of this series I would like to talk about one of the world’s largest crops that we are all familiar with, cotton. We have long been told of cotton’s many benefits and we assume because it’s natural, it must be good. Think again.
Cotton is a huge industry - the largest producers of cotton, currently (2009), are China and India, with annual production of approximately 34 million bales and 24 million bales, respectively; most of this production being consumed by their respective textile industries. The total international trade is estimated to be $12 billion (taken from Wikipedia). No wonder the cotton industry wants us to believe that this fibre is wonderful!
Now here are some facts about this crop that conventional cotton growers don’t want you to know.
Agriculture for conventional cotton is responsible for approx 25% of the insecticides and approx 10% of all pesticides used worldwide. Some of these chemical used are the most toxic in the world. 5.5 kilos of chemicals are used for one acre of cotton grown. This translates into half a kilo of chemicals used to make one set of bed sheets!
The chemicals can wash off the plants onto the earth and into groundwater, causing land and water pollution. The health of the farm workers of these crops are at risk. In fact, approximately 20,000 farm workers die each year from pesticide poisoning, according to the World Health Organization.
Agriculture for conventional farming also uses large amounts of water, typically from areas which suffer from drought seasonally. 5.5 kilos of chemicals are used for one acre of cotton grown. Half a kilo (2.2 lbs), of chemicals is used to make one set of bed sheets made from 100% cotton.
Now, for the good news…
More and more people are aware of the harmful effects on the environment that conventional cotton crops have, and of the potentially harmful health effects of wearing, sleeping on, sitting in, and breathing conventional cotton. As the demand for organic cotton has grown, so has the production. According to the Organic Trade Association, as of 2007, 265,517 bales of organic cotton were produced in 24 countries and worldwide production was growing at a rate of more than 50% per year. Organic farming reduces the mass use of pesticides, chemicals and water, although it does still require a great deal of water to grow organic cotton.
Organic cotton is generally understood as cotton that is grown from non genetically modified plants, that is certified to be grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals. The largest producers (as of 2007) are Turkey, India and China.
So, how does all this information affect you? Well, you can start by thinking twice before you buy something made of conventional cotton like clothing, bedding, fabrics, draperies, pillows, table linens, towels, and even slipcovers. There are many online sources for buying these items made from organic cotton or other eco-friendly fabrics. Try to find a supplier that also uses Fair Trade practices and look for the “certified organic” label. You will sleep better at night (literally, if you are using organic cotton sheets!) knowing that you have not aided in the consumption of conventional cotton and all its harmful effects.
*euronews, Jan 22, 2010
More about natural fabrics and fibers at SWN: