Conventional cotton production involves the use of genetically modified seeds. These seeds are cheaper and easier to grow but require the use of intensive herbicides and pesticides. Organic cotton uses natural seeds to grow crops. Although more expensive, the natural seeds maintain biodiversity in the ecosystem which benefits the local environment.
When growing organic cotton, an important factor is making sure the soil is fertile and healthy. Composting and crop rotation are just some of the ways that farmers can sustain the soil.
Healthy soil is important for the environment as it can protect from weather conditions. In droughts it will be able to produce food for longer and in floods it will soak up more water.
Conventional cotton production requires excessive amounts of unnatural pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fertilisers whereas organic cotton only uses natural chemicals such as sulphur dust.
The reduction of unnatural pesticides is hugely beneficial for the health of the local environment and workers. Additionally, synthetic pesticides release the greenhouse gas nitrogen into the air and the less they are used, the less greenhouse gas is produced.
Cotton is a famously thirsty crop to grow and the production of conventional cotton requires vast amounts of water. Organic cotton is significantly less water-intensive leading to lower demands on local water systems.
Although organic cotton is undoubtedly better than conventional cotton in terms of water use, it is still more demanding than many other fabric alternatives. Eco-friendly fabrics made from bamboo, beech trees or eucalyptus (such as Tencel™) require much less water for both crop growth and fabric production.
Additionally, in order to grow cotton without the use of unnatural pesticides, it is grown alongside other plants. Ultimately, this results in more land being used to produce less cotton whereas other crops are more compact and require less land space.
Finally, once the organic cotton products reach the end of their useful life, they will not be problematic in the long term. Organic cotton comes from a natural source and hasn’t been treated with any unnatural additives. It is therefore completely biodegradable and will break down once in the soil.
Some convectional cotton or cotton that is made non-organically may still be marketed as organic cotton in an attempt to greenwash the product and convince customers to buy it. Genuine organic cotton will be labelled with a certification that guarantees it is produced to organic standards.