PICK YOUR COTTON
PICK YOUR COTTON
As consumers, we put cotton next to our skin because it breathes, absorbs and comforts. Cotton also has a reputation for being pure, the best fabric for a baby's diapers and first t-shirt. However, most cotton goods sold today don't deserve that natural reputation. During cotton production and processing, lots of unnatural and highly hazardous chemicals are used.
"We really have to start taking a whole lifecycle approach to what we buy, thinking about not only the finished product, but also the farming and processing systems used to create it," says Lynda Grose, a San Francisco-based product designer and co-founder of Esprit's former Ecollection. When we buy organic cotton, we help a fledgling industry grow while reducing environmental pollution and adverse health effects to farmworkers.
Conventional Cotton Creates A Pesticide Wasteland
In 1994, U.S. farmers spent almost $800 million on pesticides for cotton, according to the American Crop Protection Association, the pesticide industry trade group. About ten percent of the world's pesticides and 22.5 percent of all insecticides are used on cotton. Pesticides (an umbrella term covering insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) used on cotton increased 30 percent in 1995; insecticides alone increased 39 percent. About one-third of a pound of chemicals is used to make just one cotton t-shirt, according to the Sustainable Cotton Project in California.
"The pesticides used on cotton, whether in the U.S. or overseas, are some of the most hazardous available today," says Doug Murray, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Colorado State University who has studied pesticide use on cotton in the former Soviet Union and throughout South and Central America. "Any shift toward more sustainable production methods can only be a major boon to farmers and farmworkers around the world." Cotton is grown in 70 countries. The leading producers are China, the U.S., India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
In addition to nearly 50 million pounds of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, defoliants, dessicants, miticides and growth regulators, almost a billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer were used on U.S. cotton alone in 1994, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture records. Nitrogen fertilizer can blind farmworkers. At high enough levels in drinking water, nitrates are known to cause methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome," in infants. "The assumptions a lot of us made about cotton, in part because of its natural feel, were wrong," says Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, which has transferred its cotton line to exclusively organic cotton as of this spring.
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Written by: Sandra Marquardt
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