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ORGANIC COTTON 101

Like organic foods 20­ years ago, the idea of organic cotton is confusing to many of us. It’s taken a little longer to catch on because the correlation isn’t as direct­. We don’t eat cotton fiber (at least we hope you don’t!) However, more people are becoming knowledgeable as to how the organic cotton movement is just as powerful and important as that of organic foods.

In addition to being one of the most widely grown crops in the world, growing conventional cotton is also one of the most chemical-­intensive. These chemicals have tremendous impact on the earth’s air, water, soil, and the health of people in cotton-growing areas. They are among the most toxic chemicals as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The problem is even worse in developing countries with uninformed consumers, and lack of stable institutions and property rights. In addition to destroying the land, thousands of farmers die from exposure to these chemicals every year.

So, we’ve decided to put together a little information to help spread the word. Check out our questions and answers below.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

What is "organic cotton?"

Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third­-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. In addition, federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming. All cotton sold as organic in the United States must meet strict federal regulations covering how the cotton is grown.

How much organic cotton is grown globally?

According to the 2011 Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Farm & Fiber Report, approximately 151,079 metric tons (MT) of organic cotton (693,900 bales) were grown on 324,577 hectares (802,047 acres) in 2010­-2011. Organic cotton now equals 0.7 percent of global cotton production.

Organic cotton was grown in 20 countries worldwide in 2010­-11, led by India, and including (in order of rank): Syria, China, Turkey, United States, Tanzania, Egypt, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Pakistan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Benin, Paraguay, Israel, Tajikistan, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Senegal. Approximately 219,000 farmers grew the fiber.

What is the value of the global organic cotton market?

According to a report by Textile Exchange 2010 Global Market Report on Sustainable Textiles, global sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated $5.16 billion in 2010. This reflects a 20 percent increase from the 2009 market. Companies reported significant growth in their organic cotton programs, and increased adoption of standards. Approximately 219,000 farmers grew the fiber.

How much organic cotton is grown in the United States?

U.S. organic cotton production continues to increase, encouraged by consumer and corporate demand, price premiums, and regulatory shifts that facilitate clear labeling for organic cotton products. According to an OTA survey of U.S. organic cotton production undertaken with funding from Cotton Incorporated, the number of acres planted with organic cotton in the U.S. increased 36 percent from 2009­-2010, while bales harvested were up nearly 24 percent. U.S. producers harvested 11,262 acres of organic cotton in 2010, representing 95 percent of planted acres, and yielding 13,279 bales.

While 2011 saw the largest number of acres planted since 1999, harvested acres and bales are expected to be down by 38 and 45 percent, respectively, due to a devastating drought in the southern Plains. In fact, the extremely dry conditions in Texas forced farmers there to abandon more than 65 percent of their planted crop in 2011. A modest acreage gain of two percent is forecast for 2012, bringing plantings of U.S. organic cotton to 16,406 acres. Another two percent net gain is in the five­-year forecast, bringing the total to 16,716 acres. Opportunity exists for significant expansion of U.S. organic acreage, most likely in nascent organic cotton-­growing regions such as North Carolina, which harvested its first crop of organic cotton in 2011.

How is the apparel industry involved with organic cotton?

Apparel companies are developing programs that either use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton in their products. There are a number of companies driving the expanded use of domestic and international organic cotton. For a current list of OTA members with products containing organic fiber, visit The Organic Pages Online™

How fast is the organic fiber market growing?

In 2011, organic fiber sales in the United States grew by 17.1 percent over the previous year, to reach $708 million, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey. The future looks promising, with organic fiber products appearing in more mainstream outlets, led by large and small U.S. textile retailers alike.


Source: Organic Trade Association

 ORGANICCONVENTIONAL
seed preparation: Natural, untreated GMO free seeds. Typically treated with fungicides or insecticides. Possible GMOs.
soil preparation: Healthy soil through crop rotation. Retains moisture in soil from increased organic matter. Synthetic fertilizers, loss of soil due to mono- crop culture, intensive irrigation.
weed control: Healthy soil creates natural balance. Beneficial insects and trap crops used. Aerial spraying of insecticides and pesticides. Nine of the most commonly used pesticides are known cancer-causing agents.
harvesting: Natural defoliation from freezing temperatures or through the use of water management. Defoliation induced with toxic chemicals.
production: Warp fibers stabilized using double-plying or nontoxic cornstarch. Warp fibers stabilized using toxic waxes.
whitening: Safe peroxide is used. Chlorine bleaching creates toxic by-products, which are released into the environment.
finishing: Soft scour in warm water with soda ash, for a pH of 7.5 to 8. Hot water, synthetic surfactants, additional chemicals (sometimes formaldehyde).
dyeing: Low-impact fiber-reactive or natural dyes with low metal and sulfur content. High temperature containing heavy metals and sulfur.
printing: Low-impact, water-based inks and/or pigments with no heavy metals. Pigments may be petroleum based and contain heavy metals. Run-off spills into waterways, polluting streams.
fair trade: Social criteria in place to ensure safe, healthy, non-abusive, nondiscriminatory environment with living wages. No social screening. Possible child or forced labor used. Facilities may be unsafe and unhealthy.
marketing: Positive story can be told to differentiate you from your competitors. None. As awareness of organic advantage expands, increased potential for negative image.
price: Initial cost more expensive. Long-term advantages: priceless. Initially cheaper. Long-term impact on environment: devastating.

The Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS)

About the Organization

GOTS is the “green” standard to which Organic Cotton Textiles are produced. Organic Cotton Plus sees the development of GOTS as a defining event in the story of organic cotton. For all of our GOTS certified fabrics, we ensure that every facility is inspected, and each step is certified, right through to our warehouse in South Carolina.  In fact, Organic Cotton Plus is the only online fabric retailer that has been able to achieve certification to this standard.

The International Working Group on Global Organic Textile Standards is comprised of four reputed member organisations, namely OTA (USA), IVN (Germany), Soil Association (UK) and JOCA (Japan), which contribute to the GOTS, together with further international stakeholder organizations and experts, their respective expertise in organic farming, and environmentally and socially responsible textile processing.

Vision/Mission

“Our vision is that organic textiles will become a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people’s lives and the environment.

Our mission is the development, implementation, verification, protection and promotion of the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). This standard stipulates requirements throughout the supply chain for both ecology and labour conditions in textile and apparel manufacturing using organically produced raw materials. Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic, persistent pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, organic production relies on adequate animal husbandry and excludes genetic modification.”

US Representation

As part of the OTA Fiber Council and US Representative for GOTS, Sandra Marquardt has been a steadfast leader in speaking about the GOTS standard and assisting companies make the transition. Organic Cotton Plus has been fortunate to have Sandra as an adviser on a number of issues through On The Mark Public Relations.

Organic Trade Association

About the Organization

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-­based business association for the organic industry in North America. OTA’s mission is to promote and protect organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy. OTA envisions organic products becoming a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people's lives and the environment. OTA represents businesses across the organic supply chain and addresses all things organic, including food, fiber/textiles, personal care products, and new sectors as they develop. Over sixty percent of OTA trade members are small businesses.

Green America

About the Organization

“Our mission is to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.”

Green Business Certification is awarded to businesses that are:

  • Actively using their business as a tool for positive social change;
  • Operating a "values-driven" enterprise according to principles of social justice AND environmental sustainability;
  • Environmentally responsible in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their operations and facilities;
  • Socially equitable and committed to extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment; and
  • Accountable for their work by continually improving and tracking their progress, and operating with radical transparency in every facet of their business.