24 May 2009

Don't Buy Conventional Cotton

Cotton is in your shorts, your T-shirt, your socks, and probably your underwear. It's a huge, global industry, and there are huge problems with it.

E Magazine gives a thorough run-down of the toxins involved in cotton production in its May issue. (Subscribe here.) In summary: Cotton production involves only 3 percent of the planet's land, but uses 25 percent of the pesticides; of fifteen pesticides regularly used on cotton, the Environmental Protection Agency considers seven to be potential carcinogens.

Harvested cotton is processed with bleach, treated with formaldehyde (another carcinogen) so it won't wrinkle, and dyed and printed with more toxic chemicals. The global economy means cotton is frequently grown in one place, processed in another, made into clothing in a third, and then shipped to a fourth country for sale.

All that shipping involves the emission of more toxins as I explained a couple of weeks ago, here.

Also, Uzbekistan has been using enslaved children to pick cotton. The Guardian reports, here. Companies that buy from Uzbek growers have insisted that the country sign on to International Labor Conventions. Whether they will follow what they've signed is another question altogether.

What can you do?

Buy organic cotton. Buy clothing made out of hemp, whose environmental impact is far lower than that of cotton. Buy clothing made out of recycled plastic. Buy used clothing. For some places to get this stuff, check out "Where to Shop" in the right hand column.