Global Conventional Cotton Production and its Effects on Personal and Environmental Health

Global Conventional Cotton Production and its Effects on Personal and Environmental Health

June 15, 2018

The largest organ in our body – our skin – is also the most delicate, affected by everything it comes into contact with, whether or not we are conscious of it. By approaching our lifestyle with care, and paying special attention to our consumption habits, we can take control of our well-being to achieve overall health – for ourselves, and for the environment. 

As we all know, most people spend 1/3 of the day in bed, so the quality of products we use for bedding are of the integral to our health. We spend enough time daily with our duvet covers, sheets, and pillowcases to be physically affected by their quality – in a beneficial way, or in a negative way.  By using products with conventional cotton, we allow the chemicals used in the production process to make lasting and repeated contact with our skin. Whether we are sleeping all night on our sheets, or even drying off with a towel after getting out of the shower, conventional cotton products expose us to these harmful chemicals in our most vulnerable states. Organic cotton products, on the other hand, have none of these harmful effects – but why don’t we use these more?

Before we get to the “why” of organic cotton, let’s explore the “why nots” of conventional cotton. We’ve outlined just a few of the many reasons why we should collectively and individually move away from producing and consuming these chemical-laden products:

The production of conventional cotton is a highly hazardous agricultural process, to both workers and the environment. Close to 10% of the chemicals used in all agricultural production are used only on the production of conventional cotton. The chemicals used to treat the cotton during production contaminate the air, water, and soil that surround the facility. And, due to their prolonged exposure to these chemicals, the laborers involved in production also suffer negative effects on their health.

The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the production of conventional cotton is harmful to global environment and economy. For example, a whopping 150 grams of chemical fertilizer is used to produce just 450 grams of conventional cotton. And, the annual cost of spraying cotton fields with pesticides racks up to about 2.6 billion dollars. The production of conventional cotton maintains the highest use of chemicals per-acre of all agricultural products, with a 16% of all pesticides produced being used for this purpose only. In fact, many of the chemicals used are considered carcinogenic products that damage the nervous system. These chemicals, if used during the production process, become embedded in the fibers of the cotton, and cannot be removed by washing. They are, however, easily absorbed by through our skin.

According to recent studies, the following effects can be observed after human exposure to pesticides:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Long-term memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Nervous, immune, and reproductive system dysfunction

But, despite these negative effects, cotton remains the most utilized raw material in textile production.

Conventional cotton products can and often do contain many different toxic chemicals. Throughout the production cycle, from start to finish and long after, until it reaches your home, these products are treated with or exposed to a variety of chemicals – and as a result, you are, too. Some such chemicals include: flame retardants, finishing products, ammonia, phthalates, paraffin, formaldehyde, and heavy metals.

The negative effects of chemicals don’t stop with just the process of growing the cotton. As one of the four most highly-processed materials in agriculture (along with soy, canola, and corn), taking up 3% of agricultural land globally, it takes a great deal of energy and materials to get the cotton plant into the final ready-for-consumption state that we are familiar with.

And, consider the following negative environmental effects and the implications on wildlife and surrounding ecosystems:

  • The chemical fertilizers used in cotton fields seep into surrounding groundwater, reducing biodiversity and irreparably damaging the structure of the soil.
  • Likewise, pesticides sprayed over cotton fields contaminate the air we breathe and again seep into the soil, finding their way into surrounding groundwater and as a result, our water supply.

We are surrounded by countless cotton products in our daily lives - from our clothing, to our bedsheets and towels, and even baby diapers. Products made with conventional cotton all have one thing in common – they are inexpensive and accessible. It is up to us, both as consumers and producers, to turn the tide to make organic cotton just as inexpensive and accessible, eventually rendering conventional cotton, and its harmful processes, obsolete.

Luckily, as consumers, we have access to a market in which there are companies who value health over profit margins, where there are ample opportunities to avoid the detrimental effects of conventional cotton. Letters From Bosphorus provides one such opportunity. We remain committed to a production process that abides by global standards in organic agricultural production, nurturing the environment rather than damaging it, and avoiding chemicals whenever possible to allow for the healthiest organic cotton products on the market.

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