Today you can find bed sheets made from many kinds of materials— polyester, linen, bamboo—but 100% cotton tends to be the most common fabric used in bedding. Many don’t know that producing cotton consumes a significant amount of water, energy, and toxic chemicals, making it one of the most harmful fabrics to produce and use. Let’s look at the impact of cotton and why we believe that making the right small choices can add up to a more sustainable world. Here are seven bad things about cotton fabric.
Chemical impact of cotton
Many wonder, is cotton toxic? Chemicals are used at almost every stage of the cotton manufacturing process. In fact, $2 billion in chemicals are sprayed on the world’s cotton crop every year. The unsafe use of agricultural chemicals has severe health impacts on workers in the field, increasing their risk of cancer and hormone and birth defects. The chemicals are also absorbed into the soil, negatively harming the planet and the wildlife that lives on that land.
Water consumption to produce cotton
How does cotton affect the environment? One of the biggest environmental issues with cotton production is the water consumption and energy required to grow cotton crops. The crops need a large amount of fresh water to grow—20,000 liters to produce 1 kilogram of cotton, which is enough to produce a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Now multiply that out by the hundreds of thousands. The extensive amount of water needed simply to grow cotton causes a significant strain on the world’s water supply, especially in countries prone to droughts.
Land pollution provided by cotton production
In addition to the amount of water it takes to grow cotton crops, the cotton manufacturing process is also very water-intensive. To make matters worse for the environment, the cotton manufacturing process’s polluted water is often put back in local rivers, lakes, or the ocean. A little known fact is that cotton production is the world’s largest textile contributor to water and soil toxicity. Translation: cotton production is anything but eco-friendly.
Irresponsible farming when producing cotton
Much of the world’s land has become completely unusable due to these toxic cotton impacts, leaving behind a barren wasteland that affects thousands of local habitants. The destruction of large-scale ecosystems such as the Aral Sea in central Asia and the deteriorating health and livelihoods of people living there is just an example of an area affected.
Is organic cotton better for the environment than regular cotton?
Think organic cotton is better? Think again. Organic cotton tends to use more resources to produce cotton than conventionally grown cotton because of organic cotton’s lower yield per acre. This can have a more significant impact on the environment.
The cotton industry’s supply chain is also murky, with the sequence of events in the production process being somewhat unknown. Once the cotton is cultivated, it is then ginned and spun, washed and dyed, cut, and sewn, then flown around the world. It has long been known that children are working in countries such as India for long hours with very little pay. The dye used often contaminates the water supply of local villages.
Eco-friendly alternatives to cotton
While it’s good to cut down on cotton usage with 100% organic cotton and linen to avoid the disastrous chemical effects, these crops still use large amounts of clean water to be produced.
A great alternative is CleanBamboo, one of the most sustainable and contemporary textile materials of the 21st century. Compared to a cotton sheet set, our signature CleanBamboo sheet set uses 500x less water, saving 8,189 gallons, and produces 52% less CO2. When the lyocell process is used, raw bamboo is dissolved using a non-toxic solvent that produces non-hazardous effluent. Together with the water used during production, the solution is recycled and reused in a closed-loop system, up to 200 times. There are no residues of harmful chemicals, and water consumption is reduced significantly. CleanBamboo is also stronger and softer than rayon, and its eco-footprint is minimal.
At ettitude, we’re on a quest to make the world a more comfortable place. We seek to use innovation to drive positive change; to co-create a world where all of us—customers, communities, and the living ecosystem—can flourish. And we think it’s about time we start choosing our fabrics—from clothing to sheets—based on comfort as well as sustainability.
That’s why we set out to create new, innovative fabrics with a reduced carbon footprint, less toxicity, and more comfort and health benefits than cotton. Our CleanBamboo™ fabrics are made from 100% organic bamboo—the most resource-efficient plant on earth. Whether woven into bamboo sateen fabric, infused with charcoal for long-lasting freshness, or reinvented in luxuriously soft waffle weave bathrobes and towels, the world’s first CleanBamboo™ fabric is not only softer than cotton, it’s also hypoallergenic, free from harsh chemicals, and water-saving. So you can be comfortable without making the planet uncomfortable.