When you hear about organic cotton, you probably want to know whether or not the money you spend on it is really worth it.
When you buy organic cotton – what exactly are you supporting?
In this guide, we look to outline some of the truths about organic cotton, and discuss whether you should consider buying it.
Summary: Is Organic Cotton Worth The Money/Should You Buy It?
To cut to the chase – not all products advertised as containing ‘organic’ cotton are the same.
A company might use the word ‘organic’ as a marketing tactic, although in certain countries like the US, products using the word organic may have to meet minimum requirements – such as those outlined by the USDA.
When buying organic cotton, it might be best to look for products that have GOTS certification.
A product containing GOTS certified cotton means that you can be assured that cotton has been grown, harvested and produced according to the criteria (which you can read on the GOTS site) set out by GOTS.
What exactly you are getting with a GOTS certified cotton product?
Well, their criteria in general is based around meeting environmental, social and quality standards.
So, if buying cotton that has been grown and produced in a way that has certain environmental, social and quality benefits is important to you – you might consider buying organic cotton.
If not, you would consider regular cotton.
The problem with regular cotton is that unless it is certified in some way (which it usually isn’t) – you have no way of knowing the criteria for how it has been grown and produced.
You may pay a cheaper price for regular cotton because of things like better yields, more efficiency and subsidies for farmers – which is then passed onto you as the consumer.
But, you usually don’t know if the environment, animals and humans have paid a price for growing and producing that cotton.
What Is Organic Cotton?
Organic cotton in general is really cotton that:
- uses natural inputs (pesticides and fertilizers) and natural production processes (production bleaches, dyes etc.) over synthetic ones
- and uses natural cotton seeds over GMO/Bt cotton seeds
What Is Certified Organic Cotton?
Certified Organic Cotton is cotton that certified by a certifying body as meeting the criteria outlined in their standard.
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is considered a leading certifying body – you can read more about GOTS Certified Organic Cotton in this guide.
- Companies are increasingly becoming certified to traceability standards such as the Organic Exchange (OE) Blended or OE 100 standard, tracing the organic fiber from the field to finished product. Many manufacturers have also become certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which addresses textile’s processing stages and includes strong labor provisions.
What Are The Pros & Cons Of Organic Cotton?
Some potential pros and cons of organic cotton to note are (this is not a full list):
- Pros – less pollution to water, air and soil overall, lower carbon footprint, safer and healthier for cotton farm workers, less damage to wildlife, softer cotton, more crop biodiversity
- Cons – more land use, lower yield, lower profits and revenues to farmers, more time intensive, some natural pesticides can still be as harmful as synthetic ones, more expensive to buy for consumers
Organic Cotton vs Regular Cotton – What Are The Differences?
There can be various differences between organic cotton and regular cotton.
Read more about those differences in this comparison guide on organic cotton vs regular cotton.
Other Notes On Cotton
- Neither regular cotton nor organic cotton are perfect solutions in terms of impact on humans, the environment, wildlife, and quality and price for the consumer – each have a distinct set of pros and cons
- The future of cotton may be to combine the best parts of regular and organic cotton to create the highest net positive cotton process, instead of separating the two
- Where the cotton is grown, how it’s grown, how it’s produced – all are huge variables with cotton production that can be hard to full measure the impact of. For example, water use is not as big of an issue in cotton production if majority of water use is from rainfall compared to irrigated cotton using freshwater sources (which can be depleted and run scarce in dryer and hotter climates)
Other Tips On Buying Fibre Products
If you don’t like the sound of organic cotton, you might keep in mind the following tips:
- Look at other fabrics which might be sustainable (hemp, tencel, bamboo etc.)
- Look for Fairtrade products which support the rights of workers and business owners in developing countries and areas
- Consume less products in general, and buy high quality so it lasts longer – good for sustainability
- Buy secondhand and re-use products where you can – good for sustainability
- When you wash and dry your clothes – try to use water and energy efficient devices
All these tips can reduce your impact on humans, animals and the environment if that is your preference. They can also give you other options if price and quality of the product is important to you.