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Guest Post: Eco-Alternatives to Harmful Fabrics

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jul 03, 2012 11:55 AM
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by GBE FACTS last modified Jul 02, 2012

According to the Organic Trade Association, “cotton covers 2.5 percent of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16 percent of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop.” The reason behind this is cotton must be grown in mass, with thousands of acres devoted only to cotton crop. This kind of monoculture is more susceptible to diseases, because with millions of genetically similar crops in close proximity, if a disease hits one, it can quickly destroy the entire population. To minimize this phenomenon, farmers enter into the “chemical treadmill,” in which they layer numerous different pesticides.




 

 

When shopping for clothes, we typically consider the color, texture and price of a particular fabric before making a selection. One concern we don’t seem to address is the fabric’s environmental impact during production.

Steam cotton compress, somewhere in Louisiana. Taken with Olympus OM2s on Kodak 200 speed professional film using a Zuiko 28mm lens. This apparatus stood about thirty feet high, the tank pictured here was the steam chamber at the top of the steam ram. This device would have used steam generated by a nearby boiler(not there) to ram loose cotton into a square bale for shipment north to the fabric mills.

The Problem: Cotton

While cotton is often advertised as earthy and pure (think Fruit of the Loom), our most popularly used fabric is also the most detrimental to our environment. Cotton has been called the world’s “dirtiest” crop. Its production requires insane quantities of some of the most hazardous pesticides to human, animal, air, water, and soil health.

According to the Organic Trade Association, “cotton covers 2.5 percent of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16 percent of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop.” The reason behind this is cotton must be grown in mass, with thousands of acres devoted only to cotton crop. This kind of monoculture is more susceptible to diseases, because with millions of genetically similar crops in close proximity, if a disease hits one, it can quickly destroy the entire population. To minimize this phenomenon, farmers enter into the “chemical treadmill,” in which they layer numerous different pesticides.

The Alternative: Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is held up to strict federal regulations in terms of how it is grown and its environmental impact. This eco-conscious cotton is grown with biological diversity in mind to cut down on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic production systems protect surrounding soil, thereby protecting surrounding air, water, and overall environment.

The Problem: Imported Fabrics

In response to the negative environmental impact of many fabric production processes, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted a number of laws for regulating textile production. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 demands that manufacturers provide thorough information pertaining to cancer-causing chemicals let off by their facilities to their neighboring communities. The Clean Air Act of 1970 regulates emission standards across the textile industry by screening companies for pollutants. Unfortunately, a lot of the major textile producers around the world, particularly China, are not following these same standards.

For example, in 2006 The EPA ruled against the flame retardant chemicals, PentaBDE and OctaBDE (two subsets of harmful polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), which were regularly used in flame retardant fabrics. The EPA was concerned that these PBDE’s were not only harmful for the environment, but affected both human reproductive and neurological systems. PBDEs were linked to deficits in motor skills, learning, memory, and hearing for both adults and children. To this day, traces of the banned chemicals have been found in the environment and in human beings and are thought to trace back to imported articles. To avoid these chemicals, it is best to stick to domestically manufactured fabrics. For example, Chicago-based flame resistant fabric manufacturer, Westex, is required to adhere to EPA regulations while international manufacturers do not.

Lynn Maleh is a graduate of University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing program. She regularly blogs on a variety of topics, including urban sustainability, green initiatives, and eco-friendly lifestyles.

Photo: tinkerbrad

 

 



 

 

 
 
 

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