always thought cotton was eco-friendly, but I recently heard
otherwise. What’s so bad about cotton? And where can
I find organic cotton clothing?
-- Jamie Hunter, Twin Falls, ID
Organic Trade Association (OTA) considers cotton “the
world’s dirtiest crop” due to its heavy
use of chemical insecticides and fertilizers. Fortunately,
there are now thousands of organic cotton retailers,
including some of the big box stores. The OTA’s
Organic Pages Online lists vendors (and links to their
websites) by product type. Pictured: An organic cotton
T-shirt by Tiny Revolutionary.
© Tiny Revolutionary
a lot “bad” about conventionally grown cotton—cotton
grown with the aid of synthetic chemicals, that is. The
Organic Trade Association (OTA), a nonprofit trade group
representing America’s burgeoning organic cotton industry,
considers cotton “the world’s dirtiest crop”
due to its heavy use of insecticides. The nonprofit Environmental
Justice Foundation (EJF) reports that cotton uses 2.5 percent
of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16 percent
of the world’s insecticides—more than any other
single major crop.
of the most acutely hazardous insecticides, as determined
by the World Health Organization, are well represented among
the top 10 most commonly used in producing cotton. One of
them, Aldicarb, “can kill a man with just one drop
absorbed through the skin,” says OTA, “yet it
is still used in 25 countries and the U.S., where 16 states
have reported it in their groundwater.”
grown cotton also uses large amounts of nitrogen-based synthetic
fertilizer—almost a third of a pound, says the OTA,
to grow one pound of raw cotton. To put that in perspective,
it takes just under one pound of raw cotton to make one
t-shirt. Researchers have found that the fertilizers used
on cotton are the most detrimental to the environment, running
off into freshwater habitats and groundwater and causing
oxygen-free dead zones in water bodies. The nitrogen oxides
formed during the production and use of these fertilizers
are also a major part of the agricultural sector’s
greenhouse gas emissions.
is all true despite that the use of sprayed insecticides
is quickly decreasing with the advent of genetically engineered
cotton seeds that have insecticides bred right into them.
A third of global cotton cropland and 45 percent of world
cotton production now uses genetically engineered seeds.
This poses a whole other set of issues, as some scientists
fear that the proliferation of such “Frankenseeds”
can lead to pest immunities and even the unleashing of so-called
“super pests” that can resist virtually any
cotton farming eschews synthetic chemicals (as well as genetically
engineered seed) in favor of time-tested natural alternatives
that ward off pests, replenish and maintain soil fertility
and generally optimize growing conditions without compromising
the environment or our health. “Composted manures
and cover crops replace synthetic fertilizers; innovative
weeding strategies are used instead of herbicides; beneficial
insects and trap crops control insect pests; and alternatives
to toxic defoliants prepare plants for harvest,” says
the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP), a nonprofit that helps
cotton farmers in California’s Central Valley discover
the economic, environmental and health benefits of avoiding
consumers able to pay a little more, there are now thousands
of organic cotton retailers. The OTA reports that American
farmers increased plantings of organic cotton by 26 percent
in 2009 over 2008, while sales of organic cotton fiber grew
10.4 percent (to $521 million) during the same time. The
OTA’s Organic Pages Online lists vendors (and links
to their websites) by product type; many sell online as
well as through retail chains. Even some big box stores
now offer organic cotton items. So keep your eyes peeled
and be a part of the solution by opting for organic cotton
next time you stock up your drawers.
EarthTalk: What are some simple things I could
do to green the office I work in?
-- James Raskin, Framingham, MA
average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper
a year. One no-brainer way to green up one's office
is to refrain from printing when you can, use both
sides of a sheet, and recycle so that the recycling
industry will have raw material.
No matter how
green your office may be already, there is surely room for
improvement somewhere. Here are 10 suggestions to help get
you and your co-workers further along on the path to office
(1) Take Your
Office’s Green Footprint: The website TheGreenOffice.com,
an online retailer specializing in green office products,
makes available a free Office Footprint Calculator to gauge
what kind of effect you and your co-workers are having on
the environment and identify how to make improvements.
(2) Save Trees:
The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper
a year. Refrain from printing when you can, use both sides
of a sheet, and recycle so that the recycling industry will
have raw material.
(3) Power Down:
Artificial lighting accounts for almost half of all office
electricity use. Turn off lights that are not being used.
Better yet, install motion sensors that do it automatically
when no one is in the room. Also, shut down computers overnight,
and set them to go into sleep mode when sitting idle.
E-Waste: Upgrade or repair the office computers instead
of junking them. So-called “e-waste”—toxin-leaching
computers and electronics—is a huge problem all over
the world now.
Encourage workers to work at home when possible to save
car trips. For those who must come to the office, encourage
bicycling if it is safe. Also some firms now subsidize employee
public transit costs to discourage driving. And online video
tools like Skype can help cut down on business trips.
(6) Green Screen
Your Suppliers: Ask your vendors how they are greening their
operations. Just posing the question can start them thinking,
the precursor to action. Demand recycled paper and soy-based
inks from your printers, and buy only green office supplies—which
are now widely available.
(7) Clean Greener:
Make sure your cleaning service uses non-toxic, green friendly
products—if they don’t, offer to supply them—so
that you can breathe easy when you’re trying to get
your own work done.
If you need to renovate or upgrade anything, greenest options
abound, including non-toxic paints, natural fiber carpeting,
energy efficient windows and Energy Star-rated office equipment.
(9) Drink Tap
Water: Having big jugs of water lugged in and out every
week by the bottle water company is not only unnecessary
but a big waste of energy. Most tap water is safe to drink;
if yours isn’t or you’re not sure, put filters
on the kitchen spouts or buy filtered water pitchers and
keep them in the office fridge.
(10) Put Your
Heads Together: Form a committee to organize and monitor
your office’s green practices, to ensure that your
office’s green goals don’t fall away if one
or two committed employees move on, and to reinforce the
importance of doing the right thing across the organization.