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Soil Association report confirms benefits of organic cotton

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A new report revealing that organic cotton offers positive solutions to a water-hungry industry has been published by the Soil Association.

The report, Thirsty for Fashion, has been released by the Soil Association, and makes the case for organic cotton when faced with the catastrophic and far-reaching impacts of growing and manufacturing non-organic cotton; growing cotton accounts for 69 per cent of the water footprint of textile production, but growing organic cotton can significantly reduce this water consumption, according to a new report.

Drawing on research from around the world, the new report sets out the stark differences between organic and non-organic cotton in the field and factory, including water, pesticide and chemical use, global water pollution, environmental degradation, and wide-ranging impacts on human health.

Findings from the report include:

  • Growing cotton accounts for 69 per cent of the water footprint of textile fibre production and that one kilogram of cotton takes as much as 10,000-20,000 litres of water to produce. In contrast, a life cycle analysis found that organic cotton reduces water consumption by 91 per cent.
  • Cotton production uses just 2.5 per cent of the world’s cultivated land, yet it accounts for 16 per cent of all insecticides sold globally. It is estimated that conventional cotton production requires 200,000 tonnes of pesticides and eight million tonnes of synthetic fertilisers every year.
  • Because of the high use of chemical inputs, the Grey Water Footprint of conventional cotton – the volume of water needed to dilute chemicals in the water table to legally acceptable levels – is between five and 22 times higher than organic, according to research presented in the report.
  • Organic farmers don’t use hazardous synthetic chemicals or artificial fertilisers, which helps protect wildlife and keep waterways safe and clean.

Hattie Shepherd, Policy Officer at the Soil Association and author of the report, commented: “This report is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts of conventional cotton production driven by our thirst for fast fashion – but it also gives us cause for hope. Organic cotton is a proven way of producing clothing that is better for the environment, safeguards human health and wellbeing, keeps waterways clean and doesn’t drink the water supplies of some of the most water-stressed areas on the planet.”

Sarah Compson, International Development Manager at the Soil Association, added: “This report is a wake-up call, highlighting the need for brands and retailers to source organic cotton in order to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of their supply chains, and to give shoppers the chance to make more sustainable choices in their purchasing. We can’t continue business as usual if we also want to turn the tide on the damage being caused by the global textile industry.”

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