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Sustainable Cotton: What Is It?

Cotton is one of the most used materials in the fashion industry. We all know what cotton is, the soft fabric that we use almost daily. We use it for our bedding, clothes, even our bags sometimes. But we don’t realize how disruptive cotton is for the environment.

The Fashion Revolution writes that cotton makes up 33% of global textile production. Annually, the fashion industry produces 92 million tons of textile waste. This value calculates cotton to contribute at least 3 million tons of textile waste! Furthermore, the BBC reports that the fashion industry will accumulate around 134 million tons of textile by 2030, increasing cotton waste to almost 4.5 million tonnes!

This cotton waste would end up in landfills. BBC reports that an estimation of a rubbish truck full of clothes is dumped into the landfills every second. Even worse, the decomposing cotton would contribute to methane release!

Methane is considered a greenhouse gas. EPA reports that the presence of methane in the atmosphere will affect the earth’s temperature and climate system. Note that methane accounts for 20% of global emissions and 25 times more potent than CO2 at global warming. While cotton is not the sole reason for methane production, the waste and the industry that produces it contribute significantly to this issue.

The production line for conventional cotton is devastatingly non-sustainable and highly harmful to the environment. For example, the Fashion Revolution reports that garments that require one kilogram of cotton would use up an estimation of 10,000 liters of water! Not to mention how cotton farming requires a massive land area, worsened with the number of harmful pesticides necessary.

So, is there a sustainable alternative to this? Yes, there is!

You can start by thrifting your cotton-material clothes. You will save both your wallet and the environment. Thrift shopping is a great way to help reduce your carbon footprint, and notably, cotton leaves a detrimental amount of carbon footprint. You can read more about the benefits of thrifting here, as well as how you can start your thrift journey!

But, there is also another way: to buy cotton garments from sustainable cotton brands!

What does it mean to be sustainable cotton?

Cotton Up defines sustainable as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” which describes sustainable cotton as being “grown in a way that can maintain levels of production with minimal environmental impact.”

Sustainable cotton would ensure that the production chain does not harm the environment and improves soil health, improves biodiversity, reduces water use, reduces chemical fertilizer use, and reduces chemical pesticide use.

But how does sustainable cotton become sustainable?

Let’s first take a look at water usage. While sustainable and conventional cotton still requires massive amounts of water, sustainable cotton heavily relies on rainwater for its crops. About Organic Cotton reports that sustainable cotton production saves water usage by 88% with 62% less energy! This would reduce water resource pressure and allow the water to irrigate other crops and natural habitats.

Next, pesticides. The cotton industry uses a massive amount of pesticides to improve crop yield. However, sustainable cotton would rely on soil balance, trap crops and insects to manage pests instead. Weeds are also removed physically or by intercropping. These methods ensure that there are no unnecessary and harmful chemicals used for the production, reducing soil and surrounding agricultural lands.

Lastly, it is not genetically modified. Using GMO cotton is proven to be advantageous. It can kill pests when they eat the leaves, which increases productivity. However, we need to understand the GMOs can reduce biodiversity. Using genetically modified (GM) cotton would also deviate from using local resources, which is an inherent value of being sustainable.

On that note, to be sustainable is also to be ethical. Sustainable cotton makes sure that it promotes decent work for farmers, workers, and their communities and helps farmers become more profitable. Sustainable cotton brands, such as Kotn, also work hard to make sure that farmers and their communities can be sustainable on their own economically. These acts would allow customers to become more confident and trustful of their brands.

Traceability and transparency are also crucial in becoming a sustainable brand, especially so for cotton. Being traceable means that the brands know where they source the materials, the partners they work with, and the conditions created throughout the production line. Many sustainable brands will feature their factories, as well as their material resources, on their websites.

Sustainable cotton is exponentially better. The comparison of pesticides used in the production line and societal impact on the farmers and surrounding communities. Why not alternate to sustainable cotton brands?

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