What is Organic Cotton?

As “going green” is in the spotlight and more items are touting that they are made with organic materials, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about what you get with apparel made of organic cotton.  It’s important to know the benefits that various fabrics provide to people as well as the environment.  Luckily, organic cotton is becoming easier and easier to find.

Cotton provides about half of all the world’s fiber needs and organic cotton is grown with methods that have a low impact on the environment. It is grown without pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers or any other chemicals, and that makes it highly beneficial and hugely different from conventional cotton.

Another difference is that conventional cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, sucking up 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides on 3% of our arable land; that’s more than any other crop per unit. That has been estimated to add up to 1/3 of a pound of chemicals to produce enough cotton for a t-shirt, and 3/4 of a pound for a pair of jeans.  In addition to the impact on the planet; 20,000 deaths occur each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries, many of these from cotton farming, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Organic cotton, on the other hand, uses agricultural methods designed to help sustain the land it grows on, the people who grow and harvest it, and the planet in general. By using processes such as crop rotation instead of chemicals or fertilizers, the soil is replenished to retain fertility. Organic farming really starts with the soil. Compost and cover crop strategies replace synthetic fertilizers to keep the soil healthy and productive. Weeds are controlled by innovative farm machinery, hand labor or flame devices rather than herbicide applications.  

Biological pest control is used instead of chemical pesticides to further prevent damage to the Earth and the environment. Rather than attempting to eliminate insects with chemicals, organic farmers use a variety of natural enemies which prey on insect pests, and lure pests away from cotton by planting trap crops.  Insect pests can be effectively kept in balance with well-timed introduction of beneficial insects to fields.  In warmer growing regions, where the cotton plants must be killed or defoliated to pick a quality crop before the onset of winter rains, organic growers shut off water early, and apply certified materials to promote cotton boll opening and leaf dropping, readying the fibers for harvest.  In the US, both conventional and organic cotton are mostly machine-picked; in some developing countries, cotton is still harvested by hand.

When harvesting by hand, organic cotton is also much safer for those who pick it because workers aren’t exposed to breathing or otherwise ingesting toxic chemicals while active in the field, and don’t have to worry about the same nasty chemicals getting into their water supply.

Though cotton is marketed as clean, fresh and natural, conventional varieties are anything but.  The chemicals and pesticides used to produce the cotton for t-shirts and jeans means lots of direct, unhealthy exposure for farmers, and nearby wildlife.  As everyone gets into the game; however, it’s important to stay conscientious about what organic means, so you know you’re really getting clean, chemical and pesticide free clothing. When choosing custom printed apparel and gifts for your team, make sure to consider items made from organic cotton.   Ask about our organic tees and apparel for spring and summer.

For information on going green, visit treehugger.com to find guides on everything from A-Z.   For our growing selection of high quality, low priced, low minimimum t-shirts, including the Anvil 100% Organic Cotton Tee, visit us online.