Cotton: The Crop

Fashion is fun and glamorous. But conventionally grown cotton is neither. Yes, cotton is indeed a crop – something that is easy to forget when worn woven into soft, colorful, and textured fabrics.

When Teens Turning Green began, we focused on cosmetics and personal care products. To showcase the fantastic green alternatives, we often held lifestyle runway shows, which meant we had to bring in ecofashion. And what a door that opened! I love discovering all of the designers that are now incorporating sustainable, ethical, recycled, repurposed, and organic fibers into their fashion, without sacrificing one bit of style. And organic cotton is at the top of the list in terms of global importance and impact.

I have found that people are more prone to make the connection between pesticides and food than pesticides and textile fibers, specifically cotton. Organic options are readily available in grocery markets, but not so easy to find in clothing stores.

And here’s why it matters…

The chemical usage for conventional cotton is off the charts! This fiber, such an integral part of daily life, demands:

  • 25% of all insecticides used worldwide, more than any other single crop
  • More than 10% of the world’s pesticides
  • 1/3 of a pound of chemicals required per pound of cotton fiber (as many as 200 chemicals might be applied to a single plant in one season in the US!)


Growing cotton organically reduces costs, as there is no need to purchase the vast number of pesticides and insecticides and herbicides used in the conventional growing process. Mass amounts of pesticides applied to crops are also wasted due to poor machinery or improper application. Organic improves soil fertility and thus porosity (how “porous” the ground is; the amount of space through which water can pass), requiring less water overall. And you don’t have fiber that may contain residual chemicals pressed against your skin all day long. All good news!

Now, let’s talk health of people and the ecosystem. Pesticides, even when used “properly” or in accordance with instructions, are dangerous. Aerial spray drift and contamination of ground or surface water means that these pesticides can poison farm workers and neighboring populations, not to mention effects on animals, fish, birds, and micro-organisms. Poisoning, which often occurs from crop-dusting “accidents,” is a reality for agricultural workers, a threat which can prove fatal.

And the funny (or not-so-funny) thing is that “conventional” cotton is not conventional or traditional at all. Cotton was grown organically for 4,000 years, until the development and introduction of chemical fertilizers during World War II. So now pesticides are used. Bummer.

Organic cotton is looking like a pretty great alternative to me.

“When the planes still swoop down and aerial spray a field in order to kill a predator insect with pesticides, we are in the Dark Ages of commerce.  Maybe one thousandth of this aerial insecticide actually prevents the infestation.  The balance goes to the leaves, into the soil, into the water, into all forms of wildlife, into ourselves. What is good for the balance sheet is wasteful of resources and harmful to life.” Paul Hawken, Ecology of Commerce.

Published on: August 04, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Erin Schrode

Erin Schrode is a young ecoRenaissance woman. As the “face of the new green generation,” the spokeswoman and founding member of the national Turning Green campaign promotes global sustainability, environmental education, and conscious lifestyle choices.

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