Let’s talk about cotton. Although cotton is a natural fibre, it’s very resource-heavy. Here’s a scary fact: It takes 10,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. This means that it takes about 2700 litres to produce one cotton tee shirt (The World Counts, 2018). Besides being thirsty, cotton crops are nutrient-hungry, requiring a lot of fertiliser. Most conventional cotton crops are also farmed with many pesticides and herbicides, which puts a strain on our waterways and is the current cause of many health problems for humans and animals alike who are breathing in pesticide-laden dust, drinking contaminated water and dealing with the consequences of acid rain (The World Counts, 2018).
Before you spiral into eco-anxiety, we have some good news: recycled cotton.
As part of our new spring/summer range, we have just received our first drop of recycled cotton sweaters and wraps. Untouched World use recycled cotton yarn that is completely transparent and traceable. Unlike the majority of companies that mix recycled cotton with virgin cotton to create a blend (my own research found a 50-65% recycled component is generally used), Untouched World has developed a method to create clothing from 100% pre-consumer recycled cotton. This cotton is made up of the pre-dyed scraps, rejects and trimmings from the textile industry (Textile Exchange, 2013).
The majority of water used in the production of cotton clothing is saved by using recycled cotton instead of virgin cotton. My searches came up with estimates between 70% and 98%, which is an impressive improvement which ever end of the spectrum you look at. Using recycled cotton also eliminates many other production phases and results in a significant reduction of energy, pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser consumption. If that wasn’t exciting enough, it also eliminates the waste disposal of cotton offcuts, many of which would have previously made their way to landfill.
There are environmental and ethical concerns with however we choose to clothe ourselves and there is no one right answer. It’s exciting to live in a time when we are concurrently aware of these concerns and developing the technology and regulations to solve some of the international problems facing the fashion industry. It’s going to take more than recycled cotton to solve the big problems but it’s an exciting step in the right direction.
The World Counts. 2018. Environmental Issues With Cotton. [ONLINE]. Available at:
http://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/cotton_environmental_impacts/environmental_issues_with_cotton [Accessed: 11 August 2018]
Textile Exchange. 2013. Recycled Cotton. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20130610020056/http://textileexchange.org/node/958 [Accessed: 11 August 2018]