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What is Organic Textiles?
Organic cotton is grown without using pesticides from plants which are not genetically modified.
High levels of agro chemicals are used in the production of non-organic, conventional cotton. Cotton production uses more chemicals per unit area than any other crop and accounts to a total of around 25% of the world’s pesticides. The chemicals used in the processing of cotton also pollute the air and surface waters. Residual chemicals may also irritate skin.
Why Organic Cotton
Benefits Of Organic Textile
Organic clothing can help reduce exposure to allergens and other irritants and give a comfortable feeling.
Not grown from genetically modified cottonseed. Grown using natural pesticides and fertilizers, no chemical – synthetic pesticides used.
Strict testing ensures the absence of contaminants like nickel, lead, formaldehyde, amines, pesticides and heavy metals.
People with allergies and chemical sensitivity especially benefit from organic cotton clothing, as conventional cotton may retain harmful toxic residues. Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, organic cotton will just feel better against your skin.
Children are at greater risk for pesticide-related health problems than adults. Millions of children in the US receive up to 35% of their estimated lifetime dose of some carcinogenic pesticides by age five through food, contaminated drinking water, household use, and pesticide drift.
Farm workers working in conventionally grown cotton fields around the world suffer from an abundance of toxic exposures and related health problems. Pesticides used on cotton cause acute poisonings and chronic illness to farm workers worldwide. Acute respiratory symptoms and other health effects in communities surrounding cotton farms are correlated with high use of chemicals.
Cotton and climate change
A 2011 report by the Carbon Trust estimated that the global consumption of cotton causes around 220 million tonnes of CO2 e and consumes around 4% of the world’s nitrogen fertilizers. One of the most alarming findings by the Carbon Trust’s report is that global emissions from cotton production could increase to 300 million tonnes of CO2e by 2020 if current practices and rates of growth remain. Production in developed countries such as the USA and Australia is more mechanized than in developing countries such as India. Greater mechanical input does not necessarily result in higher emissions, primarily due to more careful management of fertilizer and pesticide application. The two biggest cotton producers, China and India, also have the highest carbon intensity per tonne of lint. Similarly, the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to cotton crops in China and India is notably higher than in other countries, and despite this increased fertilizer use, there is no corresponding increase in yields, indicating that excess nitrogen fertilizer is being applied. In fact, it is estimated that this over-application of fertilizer could be reduced by up to 70% in some cases.
Climate benefits of organic cotton:
The evidence given what we understand about the performance of organic agriculture generally in the context of climate change, it is reasonable to assume that organic cotton will perform better than conventionally grown cotton in terms of substantially lower GHG emissions. To date, little empirical research into the relative benefits of organic compared to conventional cotton has been carried out, but the findings from the data that is available are clear: the performance of organic cotton, for the climate and against a range of other indications, is far superior to that of conventionally grown cotton.
The most significant findings of this Textile Exchange study were:
46% reduced global warming potential-
The global warming potential (GWP) of conventionally produced cotton has been calculated to be 1,808kg of CO2e per 1 tonne of cotton fibre. This study arrived at a total of just 978kg of CO2e per tonne for organic cotton. The significant reduction compared to non-organic cotton production is attributed to the lower inputs required by organic farming, particularly manufactured fertiliser, pesticides and irrigation.
91% reduced blue water consumption-
The study found that the global average water use for a tonne of organic cotton fibre is 15,000m3 – of which almost all (around 95%) is green water (i.e. rainwater or soil moisture). Approximately 97% of this is irrigation; just 3% derives from upstream processes such as producing inputs to the farm and electricity). The blue water consumption of organic cotton therefore amounts to just 180 cubic metres per tonne of cotton, contrasting sharply with the findings in Cotton Incorporated’s 2012 LCA of conventional cotton of a total blue water use of 2,120 m³ per tonne of cotton fibre.
62% reduced primary energy demand-
Conventional cotton requires 15,000 Mj per tonne of cotton fibre, of which fertiliser production accounts for 37% (followed by post-harvest operations, irrigation and machinery). In contrast, organic cotton has a primary energy demand of approximately 5,800 Mj per tonne. Again, this can be attributed to the absence of manufactured fertilisers which, being derived from petrochemicals, carry a high primary energy demand.
70% less acidification potential –
Acidification is the process in which acid gases are released into the air and re-released by precipitation, which are then absorbed by plants, soils and surface water. The acidification potential of organic cotton was calculated at 5.7kg of SO2 e (sulphur dioxide equivalent) per tonne. This is compared to 18.7kg of SO2 e per tonne of conventional cotton
26% reduced eutrophication potential –
Eutrophication is a consequence of soil erosion (caused by poor soil management practices) and describes the enrichment of nutrients in a specific place by fertilisers, waste water and air pollutants.
In conventional cotton, eutrophication potential is 3.8kg PO43 per tonne of cotton fibre. In organic cotton, this figure was reduced to 2.8kg PO43 per tonne. The eutrophication potential per product unit (i.e. per kg) can be higher in organic systems due to lower yields (the eutrophication potential per area unit is generally always lower due to lower nutrient input).
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