Why The Difference Between, Recycled, Conventional, And Organic Cotton Matters

by: Well Made Clothes Staff | 11 months ago | News

Image: cotton field in India. Image source

Cotton is a fibre that we tend to use a lot of. It grows naturally, breathes well and forms the backbone behind a lot of our staple garments – case in point: white T-shirts and denim jeans. But not all cotton was created equal. In fact, there are actually lots of different types of cotton and these can be delineated based on how they were produced. Each of these production approaches has varying environmental and social impacts, which is why we believe it is important to understand the differences between conventional, organic and recycled cotton.

Armed with this information, we can all understand the real effects that our clothes are having on the world and, thus, make more informed purchasing decisions in order to enact positive change. So with this in mind, then, we are breaking down some of the key differences between conventional, organic and recycled cotton – and explaining why these differences should matter.

1) Conventional cotton
Many people think of cotton as a quote-unquote ‘natural’ fibre, but when grown conventionally, this seemingly harmless crop can actually wreak a lot of havoc. Taking up a fairly small percentage of the world’s land (an estimated 2.4%) these crops account for a disproportionately large percentage of the world’s toxic chemicals. That percentage has actually started to decline in some parts of the world, but according to the Cotton Advisory Committee (CAC), cotton still represents as much as 5% of all pesticides and 14% of all insecticides use globally. In addition to this, it takes about 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional cotton to produce one T-shirt. So not only does all of this have a negative impact on the environment, then; it can also be devastating for women’s health too.

2) Organic cotton
Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low environmental impact. Designed to reduce the use of toxic pesticides and fertilisers commonly used in conventional cotton production, this approach also helps to replenish soil fertility and maintain biodiversity, rather than stripping the earth of these qualities. There are strict standards regulating organic cotton classification, but while it is certainly more sustainable than conventional cotton, it still doesn’t represent a perfect alternative. Because as Quartz points out, organic cotton crops can sometimes be even more resource intensive than their conventional counterparts; requiring as much as 660 gallons of water in order to produce one T-shirt. So it is still important to buy only as many conventional cotton pieces as you really need.

3) Recycled cotton
There are actually two different types of recycled cotton – post-consumer and pre-consumer recycled cotton. The former is reutilised after the consumer is finished with their garment, while the latter is made from manufacturer waste instead. This means that the scraps, rejects and trimmings, which usually wouldn’t make it into the customer’s hands at all – but would normally be discarded – can be given new life. Both forms of recycled cotton represent a better alternative than simply sending fabric waste to landfill, but pre-consumer cotton helps to make up for the fact that an estimated 15-20% of fabric is wasted throughout the production process. Recycled pre-consumer cotton is what Baggu uses to make all of its sustainable bags and it represents a major opportunity for the waste-heavy world of modern fashion.


If you liked this, then you might like to shop some of Baggu’s new pieces, which are made from pre-consumer recycled cotton:

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