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Going green with organic clothing

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"Going green with organic clothing"

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Did you know you can wear organic as well as eat organic? In fact, organic clothing””spun from natural fibers not grown using harmful chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides””offers many of the same environmental benefits as organic food. The market for these fibers is rapidly growing and they are becoming more readily available to consumers looking for new ways to live sustainably.

A wide variety of fibers are used in organic clothing including organic cotton, wool, hemp, and even flax. Consumers may purchase different fibers for different needs but cotton is unsurprisingly the most popular. Companies such as Nike, Levi Strauss, American Apparel, and even Wal-Mart now offer organic cotton clothing and linens, and they represent some of the biggest global consumers of organic fibers.

These large-scale consumers’ tremendous expansion of the market also encourages more growers to begin producing organic cotton, which in turn helps push these environmentally friendly crops into the mainstream. Indeed, organic cotton production grew 15 percent from 2009 to 2010 to more than 1.1 million bales despite the ongoing financial slump.

The continued growth of organic cotton production is also good news for the environment. Cotton is not only one of the most widely grown crops in the world but also one of the most environmentally unfriendly. The crop accounts for only 2.5 percent of cropland but a staggeringly disproportionate 16 percent of all insecticide purchases are used for cotton production. What’s more, many of the chemicals used to protect cotton crops are known carcinogens, which are bad for workers’ health. Chemicals involved in the production and treatment of cotton may even affect end-users, such as those with multiple chemical sensitivity.

Organic cotton””and other organic textiles that could be substituted for cotton””therefore has the potential to seriously reduce the use of harmful chemical compounds in cotton production worldwide. And while synthetic fibers, if properly produced, can be environmentally friendly, they’re typically energy inefficient and difficult to biodegrade.

At this point, organic textiles tend to have one notable disadvantage: a large price tag. But keep in mind that buying organic helps the environment and also increases demand, which leads growers to produce more and eventually lower the price.

If you’re interested in bolstering the organic textiles movement here are some simple ways you can help:

  • Buy clothes and linens made from organic textiles. This is the easiest way to stoke producer interest and increase production.
  • If your store doesn’t carry organic textiles ask them if they can start supplying them. Many stores may not be aware of organic textiles or may not know their customers are looking for them. If retailers know the demand exists they will be more likely to supply the goods.
  • Petition clothing manufacturers to start using organic textiles. If your favorite clothing company doesn’t make organic clothes tell them you want them to start producing clothes responsibly and in an environmentally friendly manner.
  • Spread awareness. Encouraging demand is the best way to convert cotton production to organic methods.

Wearing organic textiles is an exciting and effective way for us to be good environmental stewards. It turns out that being green can be as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

This is a Center for American Progress cross-post.

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Weekend Open Thread ›

20 Responses to Going green with organic clothing

  1. nan says:

    I am glad to see public consumption drive up the demand for organic and sustainable clothing. The other negative about cotton is that, like you say, there is a disproportionate amount of pesticides used on it. It is not regulated for food use, yet they do make cottonseed oil from this toxic stuff. Read your food labels for cottonseed oil, and steer clear of it!

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    I would really like to buy CP merchandising. Why not start selling the CP organic T-Shirt?! Solar Gadget battery charger – You name it!

    Wish you a great weekend guys!

  3. Tyro says:

    Organic cotton—and other organic textiles that could be substituted for cotton—therefore has the potential to seriously reduce the use of harmful chemical compounds in cotton production worldwide

    Is that actually true? In studies of other conventional vs organic production, the organic crops often used as much or more pesticides than conventional crops. The dirty secret of “organic” crops is that they still use pesticides, however they are forced to use some less effective ones meaning that they may end up using far more.

    In other studies, the yield per acre of organic crops was reduced (no big surprise there) so going organic means devoting more land to these crops when they might be used for food, trees, wetlands or other activities. Needless to say, this is not climate-neutral and it’s easy to see how this can be harmful.

    From the beginning of the article, the author assumes that “organic” is synonymous with “sustainable”, and “eco-friendly” when this is just propaganda. In reality, organic is a dogmatic, quasi-religious following of some naturalistic production. Judicious use of GMOs, modern pesticides and other farming practices can reduce water use, reduce pesticides, reduce land use and reduce chemical runoff.

    If these are your goals, they you should be open to any techniques which support your goals and not cut them off simply because they aren’t “natural”.

  4. JK says:

    I avidly read labels of everything I consider purchasing. One disconcerting trend, especially in women’s clothing, is to give everything ” a bit of stretch,” which means both natural and synthetic fibers are blended with spandex (often Lycra, owned by the infamous Kochs), so Lycra not only proliferates in athletic attire, but is blended with wool for suits, cotton for jeans, etc. I’ve seen organic cotton blended with Lycra.

  5. Dickensian American says:

    And remember, when it comes to clothing, even if you must look fashionable, you can still buy at least 1/4 of your clothing used. Just make sure to wash it well the second you get it home to help contain the spread of bedbugs!

  6. RobLL says:

    Use it as long as it fits and looks good. Check out recyclers, a lot of their stuff is actually new. If you get two to four years out of a pair of Levis, is that really where to save – or would driving 100 miles less a month save more?

  7. Mark Heiman says:

    Nice article and thought provoking comments as well. My company manufactures apparel made from 100% recycled fiber (pre-consumer recycled colored cotton and post-consumer recycled polyester from plastic bottles). A big part of our mission is to educate and in many cases it is through the written word that we attempt to explain who we are and what we do. Some language that we have found helpful in describing a change in the way that we act as consumers is this: Conscious consumerism (meaning that folks actually spend a little time learning about the products and processes employed in making the products), in other words, make the supplier of the product substantiate their claims. The other term we use is “redundant consumption”, meaning that if you really look at the offerings out there, it is the goal of most companies to have you buy more, many times by calling virtually the same products something different. We try and build our products durably and with multiple use in mind so 1 item may replace the purchase of several.We feel that building great products without the use of new natural resourses, arable land, new chemical dyes and greatly reduced amounts of energy and water are a better and more sustainable option.

  8. nyc-tornado-ten says:

    does anyone know where you can recycle cotton clothing that is not wearable anymore, like old jeans? I have heard that cotton in old denim is recycled into various products.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that hemp possibly offers an even better alternative. As for cotton, the biotechnology and agribusiness Molochs have things pretty well sown up to dominate through their genetically engineered seeds, and the compliant stooge political establishments to ram it through the resistance of a bitterly opposed public (in most countries). Despite the disinformation of the likes of Tyro, GE cotton has been a disaster, particularly in India. If you want a mine of information consult The Institute of Science in Society website. Not only is GE cotton bad for the environment, but it is fatally bad for Indian cotton growers, thousands of whom have committed suicide after being ruined by the expense of paying for Monsatan’s expensive product. Still they did not die in vain as Monsatan shareholders enjoy record profits and its executives the usual multi-million dollars salaries.

  10. Katrin says:

    I think that there is nothing better than natural textile

  11. SecularAnimist says:

    Tyro wrote: “In studies of other conventional vs organic production, the organic crops often used as much or more pesticides than conventional crops.”

    That’s a blatantly false claim. There are no such “studies”.

    Tyro wrote: “In reality, organic is a dogmatic, quasi-religious following of some naturalistic production.”

    And that falls into the class of “not even wrong”. It’s nothing but meaningless rubbish and vapid insults.

    May I suggest to the moderators that if Tyro posted similarly false and deliberately insulting comments regarding climate science — “studies have shown the Earth is cooling” and “AGW is religious dogma” — that his post would have been rejected as denialist trolling. There is no reason to apply a more tolerant standard to equally false, belligerent and inflammatory posts about organic agriculture.

  12. Dickensian American says:

    nyc-tornado-ten:

    if you are in NYC, like your moniker hints, check out GrowNYC’s website regarding textile recycling. They have collection booths and a number of the green markets in the various boroughs.

    http://www.grownyc.org/clothing

  13. Good article.
    Yes awareness in organic farming and cotton fabrics compared to synthetic is growing in developing countries as well.

    “Authentic organic fabrics and clothing can help the environment in a number of ways, such as:

    • Manufacture of chemicals is not required
    • Chemical residues are not entered accidentally into the
    environment
    • Humans and animals are not exposed to chemicals
    • When the fabric is finished with chemicals are not returned to
    the earth in landfill, or enter into recycling process.

    Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop. It can take almost a 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one pound of raw cotton in the US, and it takes just under one pound of raw cotton to make one t-shirt”(Source: Wikipedia).

    In Philippines, I found fabrics are made from Sisal Agave Fibre) Agave Americana) under the brand name DIP DRY. The specialty of this cloth is water won’t stick to it. One can just dip the dirt shirt in soap water and rinse it. But these fabrics can be used in cold regions only as in hot areas it will be perspiring.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

  14. Tyro says:

    @Secular Animist,

    Tyro wrote: “In studies of other conventional vs organic production, the organic crops often used as much or more pesticides than conventional crops.”

    SA: That’s a blatantly false claim. There are no such “studies”.

    Wow. What an incredible statement. Do you really imagine that no one has asked these questions before? I mean, if you did then you would at least understand how this would be a quasi-religious subject but you disagree with that too (more later).

    In the meantime, the studies which have compared organic to conventional crops found that it doesn’t live up to any of its claims of sustainability, environmental friendliness, nutrition or even pesticide reduction. Some overviews:

    http://www.biofortified.org/2010/10/organic-pesticides/
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/organic-farming-no-better-for-the-environment-436949.html
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2285

    Tyro wrote: “In reality, organic is a dogmatic, quasi-religious following of some naturalistic production.”

    SA: And that falls into the class of “not even wrong”. It’s nothing but meaningless rubbish and vapid insults.

    Do you even know what “not even wrong” means?

    Geesh man, you could even try to back up some of your claims.

    For a start, just look at what it takes to be “organic”. It doesn’t say anything about, oh, nutrition, sustainability, health or any of the other claims supporters associate with it. Instead they’re all about “natural = good, synthetic = bad”. That’s it. No evidence, rhyme or reason. It’s especially absurd when they start banning GMOs which can easily help to achieve these stated goals but of course they aren’t “natural”.

    In more hypocrisy, you can bombard your crop seeds with high doses of radiation to induce random mutations and then these can then be called organic, but a controlled genetic manipulation can not.

    My claims were substantive, evidence-based and easily supported.

    SA: May I suggest to the moderators that if Tyro posted similarly false and deliberately insulting comments regarding climate science — “studies have shown the Earth is cooling” and “AGW is religious dogma” — that his post would have been rejected as denialist trolling. There is no reason to apply a more tolerant standard to equally false, belligerent and inflammatory posts about organic agriculture.

    To feed a growing population using the same or less land, using less water and producing less pollution we need all the tools available. That means dropping a dogmatic adherance to arbitrary rules like “organic” farming. And just because you can’t build a coherent argument doesn’t mean I’m a troll or a denier. That you should avoid presenting your own case and try to shut me up says you’re acting like those very nutballs.

    Of course I don’t want to shut you up. Much rather people see just how weak (or strong?) your case is for themselves.

  15. Tyro says:

    If you seriously care about the climate, you should support conventional agriculture, NOT organic!

    Organic milk requires 80 per cent more land and creates almost double the amount of substances that could lead to acidic soil and “eutrophication” – the pollution of water courses with excess nutrients.

    The study found that producing organic milk, which has higher levels of nutrients and lower levels of pesticides, also generates more carbon dioxide than conventional methods – 1.23kg per litre compared to 1.06kg per litre. It concluded: “Organic milk production appears to require less energy input but much more land than conventional production. While eliminating pesticide use, it also gives rise to higher emissions of greenhouse gases and eutrophying substances.”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/organic-farming-no-better-for-the-environment-436949.html

    Unlike what some people imagine, organic farms DO use pesticides and often in much higher doses:

    A new University of Guelph study reveals some organic pesticides can have a higher environmental impact than conventional pesticides because the organic product may require larger doses.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100622175510.htm

    Just because something is “natural”, doesn’t mean it’s any better for us or any better for our environment!

  16. nyc-tornado-ten says:

    #12, Dickensian-american, thanks, one of those sites it convenient, i will call them and use it, I have some stuff saved up for this. I have also heard that salvation army sends clothing that is not wearable to recycling, i have to try to verify this. I know that when i bring them clothing, they do not question the condition, perhaps that is why.

  17. DB says:

    selective “facts” Tyro – Organic dairy farms don’t use intensive factory farming where animals are grossly overcrowded – and you don’t honestly expect any thinking person to believe organic pesticides are more dangerous than anything Monsanto can cook up. Am I poisoning my neighbourhood with garlic and chili bug spray and should I move onto the more environmentally friendly Roundup.
    It is not quite greenwashing but it’s something similar – arguing that to just keep on doing the same polluting and environmentally damaging practices is the “greenest” option.

  18. Tyro says:

    @DB – do you really imagine that the major organic farms are just using garlic bug spray? Perhaps they wipe aphids off the leaves by hand? Dream on. Remember that organic farms are still out for the same things as other farms – to buy the cheapest, most effective pesticides they can, only they’ve shackled themselves to using only a narrow subset. There’s absolutely no reason to think that these will be any safer and if you see the studies on what they are actually using, you’ll see that in fact they aren’t.

    It is not quite greenwashing but it’s something similar – arguing that to just keep on doing the same polluting and environmentally damaging practices is the “greenest” option.

    That logic was skewered decades ago on Yes Minister:

    Something must be done.
    This is something.
    Therefore we must do it.

    You’re telling me that there are problems with agriculture so something must be changed. Organic farming is a change. Therefore we must use it.

    That’s not greenwashing, it’s a fantasy.

    If we want to make improvements in our climate and our environment, we need to carefully examine the alternatives and the evidence in their favour. Shackling ourselves to some agricultural version of Ludditism isn’t going to help.

    As anyone who has been stung by (natural) poison ivy and taken (artificial) skin creams can tell you, natural is not always better yet that simplistic and clearly fallacious belief is the entirety of the organic movement.

  19. Tyro says:

    @DB – just to say where I’m coming from, I too think that the way many farms are run isn’t just poor but immoral. I’m an ethical vegetarian and I would love to find some system which can ameliorate the harm we do. That said, I’m one of those people in the “reality based community”. I would love to believe that the organic movement really brought about any of the things they claim but the evidence shows that it does not.

    There have been some real harm brought about by the Organic movement. African food aid has been turned back because of fears of GMOs, stoked by the organic movement. As a result, there are dead bodies stacked at the door of this irrational, fear-based movement.

    We’re also seeing commodity inflation (food prices rising) as fuel prices rise, potable water for irrigation grows scarce, and floods & drought from climate change become more common. How do we respond? We need a serious, evidence-based approach if we are to help the millions of people facing food scarcity. That’s no joke and it’s no time for dogma, “naturalism” or any quasi-religious approach.

    Look at the responses – no one on the pro=organic side has even hinted that there’s evidence to back their positions. Indeed, one person wanted me banned because I had the temerity to suggest (and support) the idea that there was evidence!

  20. Kevin says:

    I wonder what the post purchase impact is of cotton (organic or otherwise) vs synthetic. Seems to me, based on experience, that synthetics dry much faster in clothes dryer — since most in U.S. at least use dryers, would seem to be a lot of energy saved by going synthetic. (And I am biased toward cotton clothing in my purchases.) It also seems as though synthetics are more stain resistant, so I can wash in cold water for better results than with cotton. And yes, I suppose if you wash cold and hang clothes to dry may be fine, but now you need to change several ingrained habits for many people and this is a harder lift.