The Problem with Cotton

Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics used today – if not the most popular – with roughly 20 million tons being produced each year! It is safe to assume that you are never too far away from an item made of cotton! As well as being used to produce a wide range of clothing items, cotton is also used in things like furniture and household items.

To truly understand how popular cotton is, and why this is the case, let’s take a look at some statistics:

  • In 2013 more than 82 million tons of textile fibres were manufactured and used, with cotton accounting for approximately 30% of this figure.
  • Cotton can absorb more than 20 times its bodyweight in water, meaning it can be dyed easily.
  • In order to make just one shirt that is 100% cotton, 0.23kg of the fabric is required.
  • In order to make just one bath towel that is 100% cotton, 0.28kg of the fabric is required.

Where Does Cotton Come From?

Cotton grows as an annual crop from a perennial tree. The large majority of cotton is picked from the plants by hand, with just a third of picking being done by machines. It is estimated that one worker will be able to pick up to 30kg of cotton each day.

With the cost of labour increasing in many parts of the world, more farmers are being pushed to invest in mechanical picking. This type of picking is currently most popular in Greece, Spain, Turkey, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina.

The Problem with Cotton

Cotton accounts for between 10% and 20% of all insecticides used for all crops. It is also responsible for between 5% and 10% of all pesticide use. When we consider that less than 3% of all agricultural land in the world is used for growing cotton, then we can see how high the ratio of chemicals to crops is!

Insecticides are a type of pesticide specifically used to target insects, whereas pesticides are chemicals used to deter all pests from crops, and kill them if necessary.

The large amounts of toxic chemicals that are used to manage and mitigate the risk from all pests during cotton production is problematic for several reasons.

First of all, the pesticides go on to contaminate the soil, which will then run through to nearby water sources.

Secondly, pests can develop resistance to these chemicals over time, which then leads to stronger pesticides having to be created. Also, these chemicals can be harmful to the natural enemies of the pests that are being targeted. This seriously disrupts the ecosystem and can cause new problems to arise in terms if which pests the crops need protecting from!

Furthermore, cotton requires massive amounts of water during cultivation. In addition to being incredibly taxing on natural resources, over-watering an area can also decrease the quality of the soil.

Cotton and Climate Change

Industrial fertilisers are often required in order to adequately grow cotton, and the energy required to do so is responsible for between 1 and 2% of the world’s annual energy consumption. The amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere during these processes is certainly a cause for concern when it comes to climate change!

Moving on from Cotton

Increasing the prevalence of sustainable fabrics is one way that we can move on from cotton and embrace more environmentally friendly farming practices and fabrics.

At PAMA London we believe that using recycled charcoal bamboo for clothing production is a much better option than cotton. Click here to read more about our fabric choices and how the planet and the wearer can benefit from making this choice!

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