Friday, January 07, 2011

the dark side

digital transfer

this read came out in one of the lists i belong to and is reposted here with the writer's kind permission.the more information one has the more educated the choices and the easier it is  to spot the quack marketing.

The short answer is: conventional cotton is one of the most
environmental and social unfriendly plant fibre there is.

The long answer is more complex but does not change anything on the message.

First of all cotton is a very water intensive plant. One very drastic
picture for the impact of cotton farms on the water is Lake Aral in
Usbekistan. In 1960 Lake Aral was one of the four largest lakes in the
world. By 2008 it declined to 10% of its original size. That means 90%
of the lake is gone. The huge cotton farms around the lake with their
irrigation systems consumed all the water over the decades (we are
talking about 50 years, that's not even a human lifetime), leaving
salinized soil which is to no use for any other farm product. This does
not only happen in far away Usbekistan but in the USA and Australia as
well. Everywhere where ground sweet water is used for irrigation without
the proper sailinty control (which costs money) it happens. Lake Aral is
only the example with the most visual impact.

Although cotton is only grown on 2.5% of the world's farm land, it
consumes 16% of all pesticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used
worldwide. Which in itself has some impact beyond the fields they are
used on. Industrial fertilizers are a petrochemical product. In
production they use quite a large amount of petrochemicals, which in
itself leads to more CO2 production. Furthermore, the high concentration
in nitrates leads to the production of nitrous oxide which is a
greenhouse gas.

Then there is the social impact. Cotton is produced cheap, not because
it is cheap to produce but because many countries subsidize cotton
production. US American, Australian and Chinese cotton farmers couldn't
survive with the small revenue cotton gives on the world market. So
their governments subsidize the farmers. Not a bad thing in itself but
it means that they can produce even cheaper which forces to produce
cotton farmers in other countries, namely India and most African
countries, to produce their cotton cheaper without subsidy, starving on
their fields. In the meantime the soil is rendered mostly infertile
because of the salinisation, the high concentration of nitrates, the
many pesticides and herbicides so that you can't grow any food on it
anymore. (The same goes for bio fuel farming, btw, but that's another

When the cotton comes from the farms it is shipped to Southeast Asia in
cotton mills to be spun and woven. There are several chemicals involved
in making even fine cotton much finer, and most of all crease-proof. I
am old enough to remember that several decades ago cotton shirts were
not crease-proof. (Which is why people jumped on the nylong waggon as
soon as it arrived. Finally a shirt you didn't have to iron.) In most
countries, these chemicals are lead into the rivers without any
purification. Everything that is legally necessary in first world
countries costs a lot of money. Which is why most companies don't
produce in first world but in third world countries. Not to mention
cheap manpower without any union rights (or even basic labour laws).

And all that just to be able to sell an average white t-shirt for under
USD 5. (You see, I didn't mention synthetic dyeing, a major source of
water and air poulltion leading to undrinkable water in Bangladesh and
many other third world countries)

For further reading:

you asked ;o)

be well, buy second hand clothes and fabrics or organic cotton and stay

Ulrike, staying at home with black ice outside

not much more to add far one goes is a personal choice and the range goes from negationism to talibanism.

have a good weekend!

 neki desu
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  1. Anonymous11:13 PM

    It's those "hidden" costs that get me. And we simply don't need such cheap clothing. Why on earth should any of us be able to go into a shop in the UK and buy a garment - or two, or even three - for less than an hour's pay at minimum wage? Other people's labour and environment should be worth more to us than that. Thanks for re-posting!

  2. This is terrifying. I knew about the problems in Uzbekistan because my mother visited this country a few years ago, but I had no idea of all the other problems and that other countries were involved.
    Would buying organic cotton be less devastating on the planet/people?


interaction appreciated!


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