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


Unlike man-made, chemically-produced fibers like rayon and polyester, cotton is natural, grown from the earth. Cotton farming has made huge strides toward a sustainable future in the past few decades, and it’s only improving.

| Sustainable Cotton Farming

Growing any kind of crop takes the basics: land and water, but cotton growing doesn’t need too much of either. In fact, U.S. cotton farmers now grow almost double the amount of cotton than they did on the same amount of land in 1980, leading to a 30% reduction in land use. Soil erosion has also decreased by 68% using modern farming techniques.

As for water, did you know that most of U.S. cotton is grown using only rainfall? And half of the global cotton crop also relies solely on rainfall. In fact, only 3% of the world’s agricultural water is used to grow cotton. Because cotton is a heat- and drought-resistant crop, it doesn’t always need to be irrigated in order to grow into the fiber we use and love. In fact, it takes more water to grow an acre of regular lawn grass than it takes to grow an acre of cotton.

Cotton plant

Processing the Entire Cotton Plant

While modern farming techniques have improved the farming process, the cotton industry has discovered ways to use more than just the fiber. Now, the entire cotton plant can be used, not just the fluffy boll. Cottonseed becomes a high-quality cow feed, or is pressed into oil for cooking, cosmetics, and soap. Even the cotton “burr,” the seeds, leaves, stems, and hulls of the plant, is used for mulch, and can also be made into biodegradable packaging.

31% Decrease in Energy Use

It takes 31% less energy to make a cotton t-shirt than it took 30 years ago.* Also, processing cotton requires less energy than processing other fibers, like man-made polyester and rayon. Cotton uses sunlight and converts it to a fiber without intermediate processing steps.

*Source: Field to Market (2012 V2). Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On-Farm Agricultural Production in the United States: Second Report, (Version 2), December 2012. Available at:

| Cotton’s Impact on the Environment

100% cotton is biodegradable and returns to the soil, enriching it. On the other hand, synthetic fibers like polyester cannot break down, which causes them to release heavy metals and other additives into the soil and groundwater.

cotton is biodegradable

Pesticide and Insecticide Use

Even though cotton uses pesticides to protect the plant against harm, cotton farming doesn’t rely heavily on pesticide use. U.S. cotton farmers have reduced their pesticide usage drastically—Biotech innovations have helped farmers cut their pesticide usage in half in the past 20 years. On average, U.S. cotton farmers spray less than twice a year.

Insecticides are used on cotton to protect the plants that are young and vulnerable, but once the “boll” opens to reveal the fluffy fiber, the plant is mature. Thus, insecticide is no longer necessary. Additionally, from the process of harvesting to the creation of various cotton fabrics, cotton undergoes a series of washes that would help eliminate any farm chemical residue that may be present.

Biodegradability: Cotton Versus Synthetic Microfibers

Over 234 days cotton degraded 95% more than polyester in wastewater and will continue to degrade over time unlike polyester whose degradation plateaued after the time tested.*

*Source: Microfiber Pollution & The Apparel Industry Project Findings


You may have heard the term “microplastics,” a term that refers to the minuscule fibers that shed into our waterways when we launder synthetic fabrics—like polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Fabrics break down in the laundry, forcing the lint fibers to wash out into public waterways, accumulating and persisting in aquatic environments.

One way to easily reduce our contribution to the microplastics issue is to switch to cotton clothing and bedding. Cotton has been proven to disintegrate far more easily than synthetic fibers, causing less damage and ecological harm. In a recent study conducted by Cotton Incorporated, a 100% polyester sample saw minimal deterioration, while a 100% cotton sample had 100% disintegration. In fact, cotton breaks down completely in about a month.*

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.

*Source: How Quickly Do Textile Microfibers Degrade in Aquatic Environments?

Recycling Cotton

The majority of recycled cotton is claimed through mechanical recycling. 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 two and a half million pieces of denim and diverted over 1,230 tons of textile waste from landfills.

cotton is natural

Cotton Is Natural, Unlike Polyester and Rayon

The fact that cotton comes from a plant distinguishes this fiber from man-made materials like polyester and rayon. Cotton is grown on farms, not created in a lab or from crude oil.

Unlike synthetic fibers such as polyester and rayon, 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, undergoes so much chemical modification that it no longer bears any resemblance to its source substance, trees. Manufacturing rayon may also contribute to worldwide deforestation.*

*Source: Dirty Fashion, revisited

Organic Cotton

Both organic and conventional production systems offer the benefit of providing us with a natural fiber and their growing practices are similar. Conventional cotton yields (the amount of fiber per acre) tend to be higher than organic, creating a better return on land and water investments.* Currently, organic cotton represents less than 1% of global cotton production.**



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Recycle your jeans and keep textile waste out of landfills.