The Unspoken Problem of Organic Cotton: Sheets and Your Eco Footprint

This article was written by Ettitude CEO and Founder Phoebe Yu, first published on Medium.

It’s time to change your sheets. Millions of us are waking up in cotton sheets while wondering about climate change and our choices. Can we live our best and protect our planet? The fashion and textile industry is the second dirtiest industry next to the oil and energy sector. It’s time we start choosing our fabrics, from clothing to sheets, based on comfort as well as sustainability.

Encompassing an eco-friendly lifestyle is on the rise, and people are on the hunt for alternatives to our everyday essentials that might not be so environmentally friendly. Fabric wise, switching from conventional cotton to organic cotton appears to be a responsible choice, but study after study raises problems with this approach.

Marc Bain of Quartz Magazine claims that organic cotton, “might be worse for the environment than regular cotton.” Unfortunately organic cotton uses more water and land than conventional. And while he may be right, conventional cotton crops are using more than 3 billion dollars worth of pesticides every year. That is more than any other single crop!

(Farmers in Pakistan spraying toxic pesticides on cotton crops — photo taken from Meera Subramanian)

 

“The production of cotton is incredibly water intensive, and the methods used to process natural fibers often introduce a myriad of harmful chemicals into waters used for bathing and drinking,” says a new, comprehensive study from the University of Nottingham. “Moreover, the processing of natural fibers is often carried out in dangerous, exploitative working conditions.”

Organic or not, cotton production is not sustainable.

So what is the most eco-friendly fabric? Can we make mindful choices for our health, comfort and the longevity of our planet?

First things first — consuming less is always preferable for the planet (but it does slow economic growth). Recycling and reusing products is another smart choice (but when it comes to underwear and sheets, most of us prefer to buy new).

When I started Ettitude, I wanted to make the most sustainable fabric without compromising on comfort. And so I happened to find a new technology in fabric production, and the most versatile grass in the world: bamboo.

The Lyocell Production Process with Organic Bamboo

Bamboo is nature’s wonder. It can grow up to 3 feet a day, has no known pests meaning it doesn’t require pesticides, and requires 1/3 less water than cotton to grow. Also, harvesting bamboo doesn’t require gutting its roots, so it keeps on growing without any damage to the soil. By far this is the most environmentally friendly plant, and it is now being planted by governments around the world to prevent climate change as it absorbs a very high amount of carbon dioxide while releasing a high amount of oxygen.

(Infographic from https://www.stand4socks.com)

 

Bamboo fabrics have been on the market for years, but not all bamboo is created equal. There are some concerning risks with the first and second generations of rayon production of bamboo fabrics (Viscose and Modal, respectively.)

Lyocell is the third generation of bamboo rayon production, and it hits all the checkboxes:

  • It is a closed loop system — solvents are not being disposed into the water system.
  • It uses a non-toxic organic compound to dissolve the pulp.
  • It doesn’t leave any chemical residue on the fabric.
  • It doesn’t have any risk for factory workers.

The final product also hits the mark — it is soft, hypoallergenic and temperature regulating. “Plant-based silk” – some call it. The most sustainable and comfortable fabric we have been searching for is here: lyocell made with organic bamboo.

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