Most of us use it—in fact, your private parts are likely touching it right now as you read these words. Those parts, precious as they are, deserve a wholesome home.
You probably even sleep next to cotton, either in your PJs or while wrapped up in those floral stain sheets that you bought before your last date.
Oh yea, how about that rip curl t-shirt that you are wearing, that's likely cotton too—most modern day boardbags are make with a thick cotton outer shell, so even your surfboard is chilling in a cotton castle.
Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land, yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop.
Wait, let’s let that sink in . . .
Cotton is considered the world’s ‘dirtiest’ crop due to its heavy use of insecticides. Insecticides (or chemicals that cause major harm to you and the planet) are the most hazardous pesticides to human and animal health.
Pesticides used in the production of conventional cotton include orthophosphates such as phorate and methamidophos, endosulfan (highly toxic to farmers, but not very environmentally persistent) and aldicarb. Other pesticides persisting in cotton fields in the United States include Trifluralin, Toxaphene and DDT.
Ever wonder what that smell was while you were surfing after the rain?
None of those weird sounding words are good for you bro—if there are any crops around where you surf that means those chemicals are running off the land straight into your home break and seeping into underground freshwater reserves, rivers, lakes and oceans.
We won't even talk about what happens across the border where environmental restrictions are more lax, or where a stack of cash can make an inspector look the other way.
Those gnarly chemicals might be touching your skin at this very moment.
Ok, I know what you are thinking—can you wash conventional fabrics to remove all the toxic residues?
I got bad news: gas chromatography shows that common pesticides used on cotton crops are found in the fibers and with time, as the cotton fibers degrade, these residual chemicals are released.
Cotton is also food.
If you’re trying to avoid pesticides which are applied to cotton crops, you’d do better to avoid cottonseed oil than the fiber (if processed conventionally), because we eat more of the cotton crop than we wear.
Now that we understand that the chemicals are not washed out of the fabrics, our next question is, how do these chemicals get into our bodies from the textiles?
Skin and air.
Our skin is the largest organ of our body, and it’s highly permeable. Some call skin the organ of protection, but it cannot fight off the toxicity of harsh pesticides.
Inhalation of the chemicals as they evaporate is the other way the insidious particles get inside us. These microscopic particles fly into the air and then we breathe them in or ingest them. Or they fall into the dust of our homes, where people and pets, especially crawling children and pets, continue to breathe or ingest them. No wonder your cat is looking at you funny.
All right, now you think I am going to hit you over the head with a spiel about organic cotton and try and persuade you to the light side of the eco Force.
More bad news, the chemicals used in conventionally processed organic cotton fabrics are more gnarly than the chemicals used to grow non-organic cotton.
Yep—there are over two thousand different kinds of chemicals used in textile production, many of them so toxic that they are outlawed in other products. This toxic production bath is used on both organic and non-organic fibers.
Growing the fiber is just the first step in the weaving and finishing of a fabric before it goes to market and ends up at your local surf shop. Some experts estimate that it takes 12.5 pounds of processing chemicals to produce 25 pounds of cloth and five pounds of pesticides, fertilizers and insecticides to grow the same amount of fiber.
If you are going to buy an organic cotton product, there are eco experts that claim those products must be third party certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The GOTS stipulates requirements throughout the supply chain for both ecology and labor conditions in textile and apparel manufacturing using organically produced raw materials.
I don't know about these organic certifiers, sometimes it just seems like another racket to get people to pay money to get the certification. GOTS charges people 120 Euros to use their logo and get certified—I guess that's not too expensive.
What is the answer here regarding cotton: buy organic, buy GOTS organic, don't buy organic and just go with it?
If you really want to go organic my best advice is to join a nudist colony, avoid cottonseed oil, and surf naked whenever you can—with extra sun protection.