Cotton is a cash crop and makes up 33% of all textiles produced. Did you know 300 million people in the world depend on cotton for at least part of their income?
Yet this crop is unsustainable.
”Cotton is the most widespread profitable nonfood crop in the world, and its production employs almost 7% of the labor force in developing countries.” World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
So how are these people expected to retain a living in the future? Sadly big businesses are not thinking far enough ahead.
What makes cotton so unsustainable? Conventionally-grown cotton is really bad for the environment because of its high water consumption, pollution of waterways, soil degradation, conversion of natural habitat and high use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers. Overtime the land becomes impossible to farm. And that is not to mention the huge impact climate change is having on this crop.
There are lots of organisations out there desperately trying to improve the sustainability of the entire cotton supply chain but it is vastly complicated and they are fighting against continued demand by consumers in the West for cheap cotton goods. And that is us folks. We are contributing to this devastation but we can all collectively help to bring about change. We have become too used to ordering clothes and home accessories whenever we want – discarding those we feel we have worn once too often or are just simply out of fashion or ‘done’. Bringing back the value to personal items is a vital step in ensuring we have a long healthy future on planet Earth. And buying second hand and vintage is now the way to shop.
But if you are after a new cotton item, which cotton should you be buying? There seems to be a plethora of greenwashing from the bigger retailers – all claiming to have cleaner, greener, cotton but how green are they? My advice is to choose a bonafide certification mark that has transparency at its core and strong certification values that improve not only the environmental impact of the crop but the lives of those producing it.
If you do need to purchase something new made of cotton my advice is to go organic and look for the Global Organic Textile Standard. The Soil Association says “GOTS is the leading textile processing standard for organic fibres. When we certify to the GOTS standard, we check every step of the supply chain, from harvesting through production, processing, manufacturing and labelling. We also consider the environmental management and social responsibility of producers. GOTS is the gold standard for sustainable processing of textiles made from organically grown fibres (such as cotton or wool)”.
The other key point to organic cotton is that it doesn’t use harmful chemical pesticides or fertilisers, and it uses 92% less water than conventional cotton. 92% is incredible! If we all swapped to organic cotton, what a significant difference that would make to the world’s water problems. Organic certified items are more expensive than what you will be used to paying but they are actually at the right price. We have become too used to cheap throwaway prices which has led to an undervaluing of both the product and the environment. If we want a planet that is livable for our children we have to start making big changes to our own expectations and they way we shop. Therefore organic cotton is always my first choice and why I only source organic cotton products here at Beautiful Healthy Home. I believe we have to invest in our future for a beautiful healthy planet.
I stock a selection of Wild & Stone organic cotton hand towels and I really love them. They are soft and absorbent – perfect for dishes and hands! They come with their own hanging tag and the colours are a great addition to any home.
“Loving the hand towel – will order some more!” C.Smith
There is another label I am keen on that seeks to help the lives of farmers and workers in developing countries. If you cannot find organic cotton then purchasing Fairtrade cotton is a good way forward too. They have strong environmental restrictions within their certification process so although not organic, they do strive to improve the local environment and the health of the workers. Fairtrade works with small-scale cotton farmers across eight different countries in Asia and Africa and helps build farmer-owned organisations. This gives the farmers strength as a collective to ensure they can earn a living wage and channel funds back into their community to improve education, access to drinking water, improve sanitary facilities and so on. Cotton farmers have been on the thin edge of the wedge for too long – it is only with the introduction of the Fairtrade standard that they are now finally able to gain economic benefits and provide properly for their families through gaining the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their crop and an additional Fairtrade Premium to help them develop their community further.
One label you may have heard of is the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), supported by the World Wildlife Fund. The BCI has worked with over 43,000 cotton farmers in Pakistan to help them reduce their water use. They have managed to reduce water usage on their cotton plantations by 16%. However, the big issue with BCI is that they do work with farmers that grow genetically modified cotton. Their reasoning is that three quarters of the world’s cotton is grown with GM seed and they do not wish to exclude them. However, farming with GM cotton is extremely harmful to not just the environment but it also makes the farmers dependent upon the seed manufacturer.
Therefore shopping for organic cotton is still my first choice and when you are next out shopping I hope you will look for these labels too.