You will undoubtedly have in your wardrobe or sleep under it: cotton. The bedding manufacturer now claims in a TV ad that one kilogram of cotton uses one kilogram of toxin. The poison is already used and it is almost impossible without it.
According to experts, the cotton industry is incredibly complex. But one statement is true anyway: non-toxic cotton doesn’t exist. “The mattress manufacturer’s statement may be correct, but we really don’t know because it hasn’t been measured,” says Michael Schaeffer, director of the Textile and Sustainability Project at Wageningen University.
Where does the cotton come from
It comes down to a number of moments in the cotton production chain when using poison. Think flooring pesticides against pests, acids, and other chemicals in factories for cleaning and dyeing cotton fibers.
The amount of pesticides depends on the area you are planting in and whether there is a lot of rain. “So it is different every year,” explains Schaeffer. “Cotton is grown in about 30 countries in the world, in all different conditions.”
Lots of different clients
“It’s hard to make bold statements, especially at the kilogram level. It also depends on the purpose for which the cotton is used in the end. Denim books, for example, are dyed indigo, which contains a lot of water and chemicals,” says Anne-Ro Klevant Groen , Director of Marketing Communications at Fashion for Good, an international organization trying to make the fashion industry more sustainable.
With palm oil and chocolate, a lot is being invested to create a system to monitor the industry. This is not the case with cotton, says Schaeffer. “The cotton industry is very fragmented, so the punches cannot be made.” For example, the largest consumer of cotton in the world is IKEA, which purchases only 1 percent of the total cotton. So it is difficult to join forces.
Cotton from 25 countries for one plate
This fragmentation is also evidenced by the fact that any paper can contain cotton from up to 25 cotton fields from 5 countries. Fashion for Good ran a trial of eighteen months to take over the industry. Organic cotton has been traced from the ground up using the blockchain and DNA traceability. “The pilot program was successful, but it wasn’t used widely. It showed once again how difficult it was to pinpoint the source of it all,” says Cliffant Groene.
Schaeffer: “The major cotton producers in America can still use computer systems, but the poor Indian farmer has no more than one hectare of land, who wouldn’t track all sorts of things on a laptop.”
Organic, but not better?
Organic cotton can use up to 88 percent less water and chemicals in the production process, but no cotton is completely nontoxic, says Schaeffer. In agriculture, so during cultivation it is possible to work without toxins. But he does not know how to process the toxin-free cotton in the factory. “To get rid of the seeds and fats in the cotton, you need acids. Only a good textile plant has a good water filtration system, which ensures that it does not get into the river.”
He is quick to add that less toxins are used in organic cotton, but much of this type of cotton comes from regions in China where Uyghurs are suppressed and used as forced laborers.