Top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton
whenever you can!
Are you wondering if organic cotton is worth the cost?
Or worried about the effects of conventional cotton on you, your family, your home, and the planet?
Cotton can be a super polluting crop. But organic cotton benefits the fields, nearby streams and rivers, local ecosystems, farmers, farm workers, fabric manufacturers, you, and your family.
(BTW, recycled cotton is also a sustainable option when you have it!)
First – let’s define organic cotton.
What’s organic cotton?
Organic cotton is different from conventional cotton in 4 key ways.
1. Organic cotton is cotton that’s grown in a way that has minimal negative effects on the environment. This means:
-soils are protected and replenished.
-toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are avoided
-crops are grown in a way that supports bio-diversity of crops
2. Organic cotton is grown without genetically engineered seeds.
3. Organic cotton is grown in a way that complies with the United Nations’ guidelines for human rights. That means from fields to manufacturing plants, no child labor, no slave labor, and no forced labor is used.
4. Organic cotton is certified by a third-party organization. That oversight means farmers have to comply with the standards set by third-party organizations.
Sounds great, right? It is!
Now that we understand what organic cotton is, here’s the top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton instead of conventional cotton.
1. Less exposure to toxins
Organic farmers and farmer workers are exposed to fewer toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Conventional cotton uses millions of pounds of pesticides per year in the U.S. alone. These include known and probable carcinogens (OTA website). Yikes.
2. Clean rivers & streams
Organic cotton doesn’t pollute local rivers and streams. Water treatment is mandatory in the process of dying and manufacturing organic cotton (GOTS standard), but not so for conventional cotton. You’ve probably seen the damage done from the fast fashion industry to local waterways. Remember pink rivers, anyone??
3. Protects human rights
Organic cotton has strict labor standards whereas conventional cotton still uses child labor and other forced labor in certain areas (EJF report).
4. Less conflict over water
Conventional cotton can lead to competition and conflict over water in different regions of the world (EJF report).
5. Preservation of water resources
Conventional cotton has led to the depletion of a sea – the Aral Sea – and the loss of local habitats and species (EJF Report). The unsustainable approach of non-organic cotton allows for this type of destruction to happen. Without standards in place, the worst is possible.
6. Protection of local eco-systems
Cheap, unsustainably produced cotton is destroying local eco-systems (EJF Report). In the case of the Aral Sea, its ecosystem was destroyed in order to grow non-organic cotton. Locals who depended on that ecosystem for their livelihood lost that as well. Organic cotton can only be grown in a way that avoids these types of consequences.
7. Fewer medical bills & lower food costs
Organic farmers save on medical bills and food costs (Soil Association Report). This allows them to save money and invest in their own futures.
More benefits have been found when looking at the life cycle impacts of organic cotton. A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a study of the environmental impact of a product across all the stages of its life: from raw material, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end of its usable life (recycling or disposal). The cycle of life. Get it?
8. Fewer greenhouse gases
According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces the global warming impact of growing cotton by 46% through fewer greenhouse gas emissions (Textile Exchange LCA).
9. Less soil erosion
According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces soil erosion by 26% (Textile Exchange LCA). Soil erosion leads to less productive fields and water pollution from the sediment run-off. That water pollution can impact water life and ecosystems. The loss of soil also leads to worse flooding. We have to protect our topsoil like the precious resource that it is.
10. Lower energy demand
According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces energy demand by 62% (Textile Exchange LCA). Fewer fossil fuels are used to grow organic vs non-organic cotton.
And here’s a big fat bonus reason that organic cotton is better than conventional cotton:
11. Income stability for farmers
Organic cotton farmers in India (where much of it is grown) have more stable income than conventional cotton farmers. It’s because they grow their crops in a more diverse environment, with other crops, in line with organic farming practices (Soil Association report).
Before you leave, let’s talk about some claims AGAINST the use of organic cotton.
Claims that organic cotton has problems too
- Organic cotton crops produce less cotton
Compared to their genetically modified cousin (i.e., conventional cotton), organic cotton has been found to produce less per hectare (an area of measurement in farming). This means it requires more land and resources to grow the same amount of cotton than conventional crops.
Here’s the thing about this claim: It’s a tricky point to prove. There are SO many variables that go into a particular crop of cotton (country, soil qualities, crop rotation, amount of fertilizer, etc). Comparing the amount grown, or yield, for organic vs. conventional cotton isn’t easy. It’s varied in different published, peer-reviewed scientific studies (see Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017, for a review).
Scientists have conducted review studies on this topic to try to get a grip on this. A review study is when lots of different published studies are combined to make broad conclusions across a subject. In general, review studies have found that organic crops, like corn, wheat, soy, and cotton, have smaller yields than non-organic crops. The difference can be anywhere from a few percent less to half the non-organic amount (Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017).
There aren’t a ton of studies that look at organic vs. conventional cotton yields. The most recent review on the topic included four studies (Seufert, Ramankutty, & Foley, 2012). These scientists found that in 2 of the 4 studies, organic cotton yielded 8% and 11% MORE than conventional cotton. And two of the studies found that conventional cotton yielded 35% and 19% more than organic cotton. If you’d like a few more numbers, that averages to 91% yield of organic to conventional cotton. AKA a 9% difference in favor of conventional.
But that’s just four studies. And the average yield difference of 9% seems kinda of small when you think of all the other benefits of organically grown cotton.
- Organic cotton requires more water than conventional cotton.
Here’s the thing about this claim: according to a report by the Textile Exchange, 80% of organically grown cotton in the world is rainfed. This means its grown without irrigation or diverting water from rivers etc. (Textile Exchange report). In fact, the Textile Exchange report found that organic cotton uses 91% LESS water than conventional. That’s because 1. it’s rainfed and 2. the soil is better able to hold onto water.
So actually, this is ANOTHER benefit of organic cotton. Make this a top 12 list!
If you’re not buying GOTS certified organic cotton, do you really know the impact of the cotton you’re buying?
Do you know where it’s from?
Do you know who picked it?
Buy organic cotton whenever you can.
And recycled or upcycled cotton when you can – that’s a sustainable option.
And avoid generic, conventional, new cotton whenever possible.
No Trace uses only organic cotton and, in a few select products, recycled cotton (which is sustainable and eco-friendly).
Our wraps cost a little more than the conventional cotton wraps you might find online. It’s because we use only 100% GOTS certified organic cotton. Because organic is worth it.
What are your thoughts on organic vs conventional cotton? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thanks for reading.
P.S. – If you’d like to look at my original sources, check them out here:
EJF Report: The true cost of cotton: cotton production and water insecurity. Available at https://ejfoundation.org/resources/downloads/EJF_Aral_report_cotton_net_ok.pdf
GOTS latest version 6.0: https://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/latest-version.html
OTA website: Get the facts about organic cotton https://ota.com/advocacy/fiber-and-textiles/get-facts-about-organic-cotton
Seufert, N. Ramankutty, Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture. Sci. Adv. 3, e1602638 (2017). Available at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/3/3/e1602638.full.pdf
Seufert, N. Ramankutty, J. A. Foley, Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature 485, 229–232 (2012).
Soil Association Report: Cool cotton: Organic cotton and climate change. Available at: https://www.soilassociation.org/media/11662/coolcotton.pdf
Textile Exchange LCA: Life cycle assessment of organic cotton: A global average. Available at: http://farmhub.textileexchange.org/upload/library/Farm%20reports/LCA_of_Organic_Cotton%20Fiber-Full_Report.pdf
Textile Exchange report: Organic cotton sustainability assessment: Summary of findings. Available at: https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/OC-SAT-Summary-of-Findings.pdf