What is organic cotton actually? How is it produced and cared for – and which seals certify it? If you are looking for answers to these questions, you have come to the right place. Because of its properties, cotton is a primary raw material for textile production. Most of our textiles are made of cotton – but its cultivation causes social and ecological problems. Fortunately, with certified organic cotton, the sustainable alternative has long been available.
It is mostly produced in subtropical countries. Production takes place without the use of chemical pesticides or genetic manipulation. First and foremost, organic materials are ecologically produced fabrics.
Currently, this vegetable raw material is cultivated in 18 countries, mainly in developing countries. The 5 largest growing countries are India, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Tajikistan and they account for almost 90 percent of the total production. The largest producer of organic cotton is India with 56 percent, followed by China with around 20 percent. Despite increasing demand, the share of organic cotton in global cultivation is around 0.4 percent. The annual production of cotton is around 115,000 mt with a cultivation area of around 300,000 ha. An estimated 75 percent of organic cotton is produced by small farmers.
The production of organic cotton
How is organic cotton actually made? Organic cotton is basically grown according to the legal guidelines and standards of organic farming. The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is prohibited. In addition, no genetically modified organisms are used in the cultivation of organic cotton.
A clear advantage over conventional cotton is above all the water consumption. This is reduced by more than 50 percent compared to cotton grown without organic standards. Here, the consumption amounts to around 10,000 litres of water per kilogram. In countries such as India, it can even be as much as 25,000 liters for one kilogram. Water scarcity in arid countries is then all the more favoured by growing cotton plants, which naturally require a lot of liquid, in arid areas and wasting groundwater or other water reserves for watering. However, one of the reasons why warm and dry countries are preferred for cotton is that wool moulds more quickly in humid environments.
Of course, organic cotton also uses a lot of water – but it is still less than conventional cotton plants. Compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton is much more sustainable. Water consumption is lower due to the use of collected rainwater in less dry growing areas. Another reason is the use of a layer of hummus that is thicker than usual and therefore stores moisture better. Since less re-watering is required, water savings of up to 40 percent are achieved compared to normal wool. Because no pesticides are used, the cultivation is also much more environmentally friendly. According to estimates, 10 to 20 percent of all pesticides worldwide are used for the cultivation of conventional cotton – in Africa it is even around 90 percent. This is also at the expense of the employees. Organic cultivation thus ensures the protection of the soil, biodiversity and also the health of the workers.
Certification seals for organic cotton
There are seals tested on the world market that are based on EU standards, so that we as consumers can be confident that the cotton is organically grown. The best known seals are the Organic Content Standard (OCS) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
The GOTS seal is defined by strict environmental requirements for the supply chain and processing – it identifies products that contain at least up to 70% organically grown natural fibers.