Feature

Spinning a Yarn

G Magazine

Cotton, long regarded as a pure, natural fabric is a wardrobe staple. But it's also a thirsty, chemically intensive crop, raising thorny question, should we grow it at all?

cotton plant

Credit: iStockphoto

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It seems we cannot live without cotton.

Its fibres are spun into thread and used to make the soft, breathable material that makes up the bulk of our wardrobes; its oil is found in processed foods such as salad dressings and biscuits; and its seed meal is fed to livestock.

This versatility has made it one of the most widely traded commodities on Earth and its characteristics as a fabric have made it the world's most popular natural fibre.

Although cotton has long been marketed as clean, pure and natural, the reality is that conventional cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops on Earth and is responsible for a staggering one-tenth of pesticide use worldwide.

The simple act of growing, harvesting and processing the 450 g of cotton fibre needed to make a plain cotton T-shirt for example, requires about 150 g of chemicals.

This has an enormous impact on the Earth's soil, water and air, and can be harmful to people living and working in cotton growing and processing regions. The World Health Organisation estimates that 20,000 people die as a result of pesticide use every year, and at least three million people are poisoned (See pdf report here).

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