Aside from points we develop to feed ourselves, one particular of our most intensively farmed crops is the humble cotton plant, generating about 25 million tonnes of cotton just about every single year. Production of cotton is restricted to a handful of huge producers, with China, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the USA accounting for more than 80% of the total production.

China alone produces about four.three million tonnes of cotton every year, and has the highest quantity of cotton growers in the globe. In spite of this higher native production, China does not generate sufficient cotton to be self-enough, and nevertheless has to import about 418 thousand tonnes every year to meet the demand of the style and fabric industries in the nation.

Across the globe, cotton plantations occupy more than two.five% of the arable land location accessible, producing this one particular of the most extensively grown crops in the globe. But what are the environmental impacts of increasing cotton, and how can we make certain our style possibilities are not destroying our planet?

The Environmental Impacts


The use of pesticides in cotton farming has, more than the years, had a significant effect on the atmosphere as nicely as the overall health of the persons who operate on the farms. Cotton producers worldwide use practically £1.eight billion of pest manage chemical substances just about every year, which accounts for 10% of the world’s pesticides and about 25% of the world’s insecticides.

The forms of pesticides employed in cotton farming are amongst the most risky in the globe, and several are broad spectrum organophosphates which had been initially created as toxic nerve agents through the Second Planet War. A lot of of the chemical substances in use in creating nations right now have been classified as ‘highly hazardous’ and banned from use in the West.

Asia in unique saw a spike in the use of risky pesticides with the introduction of modified crop varieties, primarily since these quickly increasing, higher yield plants had been additional susceptible to pests than standard cultivars. As pests created a resistance to the chemical substances employed, so the farmers enhanced the use of them, till a peak in the late 1990’s when the use of insecticides in some Asian nations counted for about 40% of the production charges of cotton.

The dangers of pesticides are not purely restricted to the instant atmosphere. Due to the fact rain causes chemical substances to run off from the crop fields and enter the water technique, a lot of complications can arise. These can include things like harm to the nearby and extended eco technique, restricted nearby biodiversity, harm to wildlife in rivers and neighbouring biomes and even contamination of meat and milk solutions from animals that reside nearby.

Fortunately worldwide education programmes and option approaches are gradually producing their way into cotton production systems. Farmers can see the positive aspects of lowering pesticide use, if only for the improve in earnings accessible from their harvests, and by means of a programme delivered by the UN Meals and Agriculture Organisation, awareness of other techniques of pest manage is becoming raised worldwide.


As nicely as risky pesticides, several cotton farmers use strong herbicides and defoliants to speed up and simplify the harvesting approach. Defoliants strip leaves from the plants, leaving just the cotton bud and stem, lowering the quantity of leaf litter that gets mixed in with the raw cotton. As nicely as this, herbicides and fungicides may perhaps be employed through the increasing approach to safeguard the cotton plant from weeds and fungi, adding to the chemical soup that cotton production is accountable for.


It requires about 150g of synthetic fertilisers to develop just 500g of raw cotton. To place this in viewpoint, it requires about 500g of raw cotton to make one particular t-shirt, so you can picture the quantity of synthetic fertiliser that is getting into the atmosphere as a outcome of the cotton sector.

The majority of fertilisers employed in cotton production worldwide are nitrogenous synthetic fertilisers, which are deemed to be the most detrimental in terms of environmental effect. These fertilisers leach from the cotton fields and run off into water systems, exactly where they can lead to issues such as contamination of river environments and dangerous algal blooms.

As nicely as the water technique, nitrogen primarily based fertilisers are accountable for a considerably additional regarding effect on the worldwide ecosystem. These synthetic fertilisers are accountable for significant increases in the worlds N2O emissions, a greenhouse gas which is 300 instances additional potent than CO2. With the use of these fertilisers predicted to improve about two.five instances in the subsequent 20 – 30 years, they paint a quite bleak image for mitigation of climate transform in the future.


The harm does not finish there. Cotton increasing is accountable for a entire raft of additional environmental difficulties, not least associated to the diversion of water supplies to water cotton crops in creating nations. In central and southern Asia, complete rivers had been diverted to provide water to cotton crops, top to the drying up of the Aral Sea, which after was one particular of the biggest inland bodies of water in the globe.

Other impacts

The finishing approach of cotton is also extremely environmentally damaging. The approach of spinning and weaving causes massive amounts of strong waste as nicely as working with a terrific deal of power, and after the cotton is spun into a fabric, it is treated with chemical substances such as pentachlorophenol to avert rot while the fabric is stored.

When the material is dyed, the majority of processes will very first bleach the cotton to improve the depth of colour achievable. In creating nations this is typically completed working with a chlorine primarily based bleach, which is extremely dangerous to the atmosphere. The use of chlorine has been stopped in most western nations, exactly where they use hydrogen peroxide to bleach the fabrics alternatively. Even though significantly less polluting, hydrogen peroxide will only operate as a bleach at temperatures of 60 degrees or above, producing this approach considerably additional power intensive.

Dyes had been after produced from plant solutions, but with the world’s arable land at a premium, it is no longer probable to develop sufficient plants, nevertheless, there are organizations producting organic plant primarily based dyes on an industrial scale such as Couleurs de Plantes in France but for the most element the clothes sector now utilizes petrochemicals to generate the colours they need to have for their cotton solutions.

Immediately after colouring the material, it ought to be completely washed, resulting in a coloured, extremely polluted effluent discharge. Worldwide about 40 – 50,000 tonnes of chemical dyes go into rivers, and while western nations are taking methods to mitigate the effect of this by item, the large textile mills in creating nations are not in an financial position to make any significant modifications.

The option: Organic Cotton & Hemp

Organic cotton is developed in absolutely diverse methods, providing customers a actual selection more than how they would like their clothing to be produced. Some of the positive aspects of organic cotton include things like:

  • Decrease carbon footprint due to manual farming practices
  • No genetically modified plants employed
  • Grown working with organic fertilisers, organic pest manage techniques and no defoliants
  • Removal of contaminants like lead, formaldehyde, heavy metals, lead and amines from the production approach, and strict testing to make sure none are present in the final solutions
  • Safer functioning environments for cotton farmers and their households
  • Much more lucrative farming by means of lowered use of costly chemical substances
  • Eco friendly processing and finishing that reduces toxic pollutants getting into the eco technique

Organic cotton is produced to be sort to the atmosphere and to your skin, so if you endure with allergies or eczema, you will positively advantage from the lack of chemical substances and irritants in organic cotton. Even if you do not have sensitive skin, organic cotton feels considerably nicer against your skin and by deciding upon to acquire organic, you are displaying your help for additional environmentally conscious, ethical practices in the sector.

Hemp is a wonder fibre it is the longest and strongest plant fiber and will row with pretty tiny water (about 1/20th the quantity of water employed to develop and approach cotton.) Furthermore, it is pretty resiliant and will develop devoid of the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Hemp has 4 instances the strength of cotton so it will not weaken when washed.

Hemp has been in use for practically 2000 years (because 770 AD) and employed for a assortment of solutions such as sails, rope, paper, books and clothes

Hemp is anti-fungal and filters UV light, so is great for your skin

Hemp is also a porous fibre which makes it possible for it to breathe. The outcome is you are cool in the summer time and warmer in cool climate.

Hemp is additional water resistant than cotton and keeps your physique dry as it wicks away moisture promptly,

Hemp will also retain colour improved than any other fibre and resist fading

When we look at the large positive aspects of switching to organic cotton and hemp as a staple for textile and clothes requirements it is worth thinking of in search of out and supporting organizations and suppliers who are endeavouring to generate products that are great for the atmosphere and therefore great for the entire of mankind and their future.