The Wide Range of Byproducts Produced by the Cotton Plant
Cotton has been cultivated and used to make fabrics for at least 7,000 years. It may have existed in Egypt as early as 12,000 B.C. Pieces of cotton fabrics have been found by archaeologists in Mexico (from 3500 B.C.), in India (3000 B.C.), in Peru (2500 B.C.), and in the southwestern United States (500 B.C.).
But the cotton plant is so much more than just a fiber source. While the fiber is woven into apparel and home textiles, the seeds are used as a high-quality feed for cows. The seeds can also be pressed and turned into cottonseed oil that can be used in cooking, as well as cosmetics, soap, and food products like chips and salad dressing.
Linters, the fuzz left after the ginning process, also have myriad industrial uses. Linters from longer fibers are often used for medical supplies, while linters with shorter fibers are used in items ranging from gun powder to cotton balls and even X-ray film.
Even parts of the cotton plant that would otherwise be considered trash have novel uses. Ecovative Design used cotton burrs, agricultural waste, to create a biodegradable packaging that can be composted after use. Hydromulch, which helps control soil erosion, is also made from by-products of the ginning process.
Cotton by-products are in everything from ice cream to wall paper, from hot dog casings to baseballs—not to mention lots of things we use at home, like cotton swabs, wipes, and even disposable diapers.