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Cotton | The Fabric of Our Lives
Benefits Of Cotton
cotton is natural, grown from the earth

COTTON RECYCLING & SUSTAINABILITY

Cotton is a natural fiber that can be sustainable, and the industry is continually making strides towards improving its viability.

| Cotton Is Natural, Unlike Synthetic and Man-made Fibers

The natural origin of cotton distinguishes it from other synthetic and man-made fibers. Cotton is grown on farms, not created in a lab or from crude oil. Unlike synthetic fibers such as polyester, cotton is natural and grown from the earth. Polyester is derived from crude oil, the same oil that is used to make fuel for cars.

Rayon, another man-made fiber made from trees, requires a chemically intensive process to become a fiber.1 Mismanagement of the chemicals used in the viscose rayon industry has a long history of occupational health impacts and even some fatalities.2 In fact, there are many abandoned rayon manufacturing facilities in the United States that are considered hazardous waste sites.3 Many of the trees that are made into rayon for clothes are at risk of coming from ancient and endangered forests.3

  1. 1

    Lewin, M., Pearce, E.M., (1998). Handbook of fiber chemistry. Marcel Dekker, Inc. ISBN 0-8247-9471-0

  2. 2

    Blanc, P. D. (2016). Fake silk: the lethal history of viscose rayon. Yale University Press.

  3. 3Canopy (2019). The Hot Button Report: 2018 Ranking of Viscose Producer Performance.
person installing insulation made from recycled denim

| Cotton Is Recyclable

The majority of recycled cotton is claimed through mechanical recycling.4 First, fabrics and materials are sorted by color. After sorting, the fabrics are run through a machine that shreds the fabric into yarn and further into raw fiber.

Cotton Incorporated has created a denim recycling program called Blue Jeans Go Green™. The Blue Jeans Go Green™ initiative recycles old denim jeans to be preprocessed and converted into insulation. The program, created in 2006, has collected about three and a half million pieces of denim and diverted over 1,950 tons of textile waste from landfills.

  1. 4https://www.cottonworks.com/topics/sustainability/cotton-sustainability/recycled-cotton/#
man holding composted underwear in a cotton field

| Cotton Is Biodegradable

100% cotton is biodegradable at least 50-77% in a large-scale compost in about three months, a process which returns carbon to the soil and enriches it.5 On the other hand, in large-scale composting, polyester biodegrades very slowly.6 Polyester is made from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), a common plastic material. Plastics such as PET often have toxic additives that may have environmental impact if they're thrown out or recycled.7

  1. 5https://journals.sagepub.com/h...
  2. 6

    Li, Lili, M. F., & Browning, K. J. (2010). Biodegradability Study on Cotton and Polyester Fabrics, 5(4).

  3. 7McKeen, L. W. (2017). 6 - Polyester Plastics. In Permeability Properties of Plastics and Elastomers. (Fourth Edition). McKeen (Ed.), Plastics Design Library (pp. 95–114). William Andrew Publishing.
woman with brown hair standing in ocean with long cotton dress

| Cotton Doesn't Produce Microplastics

You may have heard the term “microfibers,” which refers to the minuscule fibers that shed through regular wear and into our waterways when we launder our clothing. Clothing microfibers affect aquatic life and the aquatic food chain.8

The term “microplastics” includes microfibers made of polyester that enter our aquatic environments and persist there, since they do not biodegrade easily.9 Washing synthetic clothing, especially polyester, is a substantial contributor to environmental microplastics to rivers and oceans. Microplastics usually contain significant amounts of hazardous chemicals, some of which are considered carcinogens. Microplastics ingested by marine animals can cause negative developmental health impacts.10

Cotton, a natural fiber made of cellulose, biodegrades in wastewater, saltwater, and freshwater, and does not contribute to widespread microplastic pollution. In a recent study conducted by Cotton Incorporated, a 100% polyester sample saw minimal deterioration, while a 100% cotton sample had disintegrated 76% in wastewater in 250 days. By comparison, rayon disintegrated 60% in the same conditions and timeframe, and polyester disintegrated only 4%.11

One way to easily reduce our contribution to the microplastics issue is to switch to cotton clothing and bedding. Cutting down on synthetic and artificial fabrics makes it easier to ensure that fewer microplastics pollute our waterways.

Find sustainable cotton clothes in the cotton shop.

  1. 8Wang, W., Gao, H., Jin, S., Li, R., & Na, G. (2019). The ecotoxicological effects of microplastics on aquatic food web, from primary producer to human: A review. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 173(February), 110–117.
  2. 9Zambrano, M. C., Pawlak, J. J., Daystar, J., Ankeny, M., Cheng, J. J., & Venditti, R. A. (2019). Microfibers generated from the laundering of cotton, rayon and polyester based fabrics and their aquatic biodegradation. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 142(November 2018), 394–407.
  3. 10Anbumani, S., & Kakkar, P. (2018). Ecotoxicological effects of microplastics on biota: a review. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 25(15), 14373–14396.
  4. 11https://cottontoday.cottoninc....
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BLUE JEANS GO GREEN

Recycle your jeans and keep textile waste out of landfills.

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