picking cotton clothing, today's ecologically minded consumer has several
choices. Once believed to be a pure, natural fabric, today's cotton is dosed
with harmful chemicals that pollute our environment. Today, thanks to strong
media awareness and a revitalization of old techniques, we have alternatives.
Organically grown cotton, naturally colored cotton and recycled cotton products
give us three choices for truly natural clothing. It may cost a little more, but
by supporting the natural cotton industry's growth, we're supporting ourselves
and the future of our planet.
use of cotton dates back to the Egyptians some 4,500 year ago. For thousands of
years, cotton, grown using natural methods, was the primary source of textiles.
Today, cotton production is far from natural. The United states alone dumps 8.5
million tons of pesticides on cotton fields annually. And that's not all.
Conventionally grown cotton accounts for nearly 25 percent of the total
insecticide use for crops worldwide. This chemical onslaught harms our
environment by polluting ground waters and soil, resulting in the death of
wildlife and natural habitats.
of the cotton garments sold today are made from cotton grown with chemical
pesticides, bleached and then colored with chemical dyes containing toxic heavy
metals. About a third of a pound of chemicals are used to make one adult
T-shirt; two-thirds of a pound of chemicals can go into a pair of jeans.
consumers are choosing clothing made from organic cotton, naturally colored
cotton, and recycled sources. Here are details on these three environmentally
healthy ways of producing cotton clothing and other textiles.
cotton is grown without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides or
defoliants. By incorporating farming practices that increase fertility and
diverse eco-systems, organic farmers rely on time-honored techniques. Crop
rotation, cover crops, organic fertilizers, integrated pest management, and
human labor for weed control are a few of the methods used. To be certified
organic, the soil must be free of synthetic pesticides for at least three years.
Farmers and processors are required to pass yearly inspections.
the obvious environmental and health benefits of growing cotton organically, why
aren't more farmers doing it? In the past, demand for organic cotton has been
limited due to higher production costs. However, in recent years media attention
has been strong. Some major industry players such as Levi Strauss, Nike and The
Gap are blending organic cotton fibers with conventionally produced cotton. The
growing public awareness of the toxicity of conventional farming methods has
resulted in an increase in both the demand for organically grown cotton and the
amount of acreage planted.
recently, chemical dyeing was counted as the only viable way to color cotton
clothing. This process requires several steps, each of which creates toxic
waste. Cotton is often bleached before it is dyed and heavy metal mordants are
used to adhere the dye to the fabric. Because dyes have a hard time adhering to
cotton, at least half of the chemicals end up as waste water in rivers and in
the soil. Even in small amounts these heavy metals are lethal.
1982, entomologist Sally Fox reintroduced naturally colored cotton, eliminating
the need for dyeing altogether. Cottons of different colors have always existed
in nature. Like our eyes or hair, cotton is genetically encoded with colors
ranging from brown to tan. Native peoples have used these wild cottons for
weaving and hand spinning for centuries. Because of its short fibers and
inherent weakness, however, it was unable to be processed by modern textile
machinery and had limited commercial value.
a program of plant breeding, Fox developed a strong, long-fiber, colored cotton
that can be used commercially. Today, colored cotton is grown on the stem in
shades of brown, reddish brown, green and yellow, totally eliminating the need
the long run, no dyeing means a savings in our pocket. The cost of one pound of
dyed cotton including dyestuff, water, energy costs and toxic waste disposal is
20 to 40 percent higher than that of colored cotton. And with colored cotton
there are no hidden costs to the environment.
addition colored cotton offers:
eco-friendly solution. Since there is no bleaching or harmful dyestuff
involved in manufacturing, no waste water is produced.
dyed material, the color of the fabrics made from colored cotton actually
deepens with washing.
cotton is naturally pest and disease tolerant, making it easier to grow
cotton is suitable for chemically sensitive people.
cotton provides new yarn and fabric design potentials.
the need for abundant water or energy sources, new mill sites have many more
choices for location.
recent years, the demand for colored cotton has increased. Large companies like
Esprit and Levi have launched popular "green lines" of cotton
outerwear using dye-free, unbleached, organic green cotton. The demand for these
items far exceed the supply. Colored cotton is now being grown in the United
States, Europe and Australia.
ecological choice when purchasing cotton clothing is Eco Fibre. Eco Fibre is a
recycled cotton fabric made from recovered cotton that would otherwise be cast
off during the spinning, weaving or cutting process. There are no harsh
chemicals used in the processing of this fabric.
next time you are shopping for cotton clothing, choose garments made from
organic cotton, naturally colored cotton or recycled cotton. By buying from
these natural sources, you are supporting the demand for a new earth-friendly
textile industry. Your choice makes a
Capone . is a freelance writer from Boulder, Colorado.
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