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Definitions of commonly used terms in the world of cotton and on this website.
An acre is unit of land area equal to 43,560 square feet – roughly the size of a U.S. football field1 (0.405 hectare).
A bale is a basic tradeable unit of cotton lint, or cotton that has been ginned. Bale weights vary from country to country. By convention, a “statistical” bale weighs 480 lbs.2
A material is generally considered biocompatible if it is compatible with living tissue without being toxic or otherwise injurious.3 Cotton is generally considered a biocompatible material. Read more here.
Biodegradation refers to degradation caused by biological activity, especially by enzymatic action, leading to a significant change in the chemical structure of a material. It is used to define whether a material will naturally disappear in nature. Cotton is biodegradable with or without oxygen, in sewage sludge or in water, and regardless of the finishing applied to the material. Read more here.4

Maintaining biodiversity is a high priority for cotton growers around the world. Biodiversity is generally defined as a variety of plant and animal life.5 Variety in the natural environment is considered beneficial to all crops.

Biosequestration is the absorption and storage of carbon by plants and trees, which take in carbon dioxide as they grow, and then release the oxygen while storing the carbon in plant structures and soil.
A boll is the “fruiting structure of a cotton plant. It is made up of separate compartments called locks, in which cotton seeds and lint grow”.1

Bt, a bacterium formally known as Bacillus thuringiensis, kills a variety of insects that harm the cotton plant. In the 1990s, scientists encoded Bt directly into a plant. After rigorous scientific evaluation, Bt cotton was placed on the market in 1996, allowing growers to protect their plants while applying significantly less insecticide.

Carbon sequestration

Carbon sequestration is also called carbon capture and storage. According to the U.S. Government, “Carbon dioxide is the most commonly produced greenhouse gas. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.6” Cotton is very efficient at capturing and storing carbon. Read more here.

Circularity principles aim to move away from a linear model where resources are produced, used once and then discarded, to a circular model where resources are intentionally developed to be repurposed to find new life, and waste is eliminated. As a plant and natural fiber, cotton is inherently circular. It is grown from the earth, can be reused and recycled in a variety of ways, and biodegrades when it is ultimately returned to the earth. And, all parts of the cotton plant, including stems, lint and seeds, can be used. Read more here.

Organic soil conditioner obtained by the biodegradation of a mixture principally consisting of various vegetable residues, occasionally with other organic material and having a limited mineral content7


Organic soil conditioner obtained by the biodegradation of a mixture principally consisting of various vegetable residues, occasionally with other organic material and having a limited mineral content8

the property of a material to be biodegradable in a composting process.9
Conservation tillage

Tillage is the act of preparing the soil through mechanical agitation, for example through plowing. Conservation tillage is defined by the OECD as “a tillage system that creates a suitable soil environment for growing a crop and that conserves soil, water and energy resources mainly through the reduction in the intensity of tillage, and retention of plant residues.”10


The cotton plant belongs to the Gossypium species and is a member of the hibiscus family.11 It is grown across the world and is most commonly known for its use in natural, durable textiles – though other parts of the cotton plant can also be used for food and a variety of innovative products. Read more here.

In addition to carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, all plants need mineral nutrients to grow. The primary nutrients needed are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. There are various methods to meet the fertility requirements of cotton, including the use of nitrogen-fixing cover crops, manures and soluble fertilizers. Read more here.
Textile fibers are structures that can be spun into yarn for textiles or manufactured into other products in a non-woven state.

Ginning is the process of separating cotton fiber from the seed. Ginning takes place in a cotton gin and goes through a process of drying and cleansing before the lint is removed by revolving circular saws. Ginned cotton lint is compressed into bales.12


Gossypol is a yellow substance found in the cotton plant. It is toxic to most animals when consumed, but when extracted it can be useful for different types of medicines.13 This compound is part of the plant’s natural defense to pests.

A hectare is a metric unit of square measure equivalent to 10,000 square meters, or 2.471 acres.
Life cycle assessment

Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) allow for the holistic examination of the environmental impacts and resource utilization of a given product, from the raw materials used to create it all the way to that product’s end of life, when it is disposed. A fundamental part of an LCA is the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), which quantifies relevant energy and material input and environmental release data associated with manufacturing and other processes.14 Read more here.

Lint is the cotton fiber that remains from the cotton plant once the cotton seed, leaves and casing have been removed through the ginning process.

As a subsection of micro plastics, they are a synthetic fiber finer than one denier per filament that are either engineered specifically to be a micro fibre, or produced through degradation.15


A simple definition for microplastics is that they are plastic particles smaller than 5 mm. A recent study has defined microplastics more precisely as: “any synthetic solid particle or polymeric matrix, with regular or irregular shape and with size ranging from 1 μm to 5 mm, of either primary or secondary manufacturing origin, which are insoluble in water”.16

Natural fiber
A fiber is considered natural if it is made from natural materials that can be turned into clothing without first undergoing industrial processes. Cotton is a natural fiber. Other natural fibers include fibers such as wool, linen, hemp and silk.

Pesticide law defines a “pesticide” (with certain minor exceptions) as “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.”17 These pests can be insects, fungi or weeds that are harmful to the cotton crop.

Polyester (polyethylene terephthalate) is a man-made fiber derived from petroleum.
Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic philosophy that aims to positively influence biosequestration, biodiversity, ecotoxicity, climate resilience, water systems, micronutrients, and ecosystem services. Common regenerative agriculture practices include no or low till plowing, cover cropping, multi-use systems, agroforestry, rotational farming, precision agriculture, integrated pest management, and intentional use of inputs that are landscape specific.

Regenerative agriculture is not a one size fits all prescriptive practice, rather it looks at the combination of practices that support resilience as well as build and nourish our ecosystem. Over time, regenerative practices can increase production and naturally reduce the need for external inputs. When these regenerative practices are implemented successfully, the health of the agriculture ecosystem and farmer economic stability can be improved. This is regenerative agriculture.


Shedding in the context of textiles refers to the release of fabric fibers during the laundering process or through natural wear and tear.18

Synthetic Fiber

Synthetic fibers are man-made textile fibers, including fully synthetic fibers made from crude oil and other plastics (such as polyester, acrylic and nylon), as well as those made from natural materials (eg. trees) through industrial processes, such as rayon made from cellulose.19 Cotton is a natural, not a synthetic fiber.

  1. Washington Grown. (n.d.). What does an ACRE look like?  http://www.wagrown.com/what-does-an-acre-look-like/.
  2. Cotton Outlook. (n.d.). Glossary of Words. https://www.cotlook.com/information-2/glossary-of-terms/
  3. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Biocompatibility. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biocompatibility.
  4. The International Organization for Standardization (2002). Plastics — Determination of the degree of disintegration of plastic materials under defined composting conditions in a pilot-scale test. ISO 16929:2002.
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Biodiversity. Encyclopædia Britannica.  https://www.britannica.com/science/biodiversity.
  6. USGS. (n.d.). What is carbon sequestration? https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-carbon-sequestration?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
  7. The International Organization for Standardization (2019). Textiles —Test method for accelerated hydrolysis of textile materials and biodegradation under controlled composting conditions of the resulting hydrolysate. ISO 21701:2019(en).
  8. The International Organization for Standardization (2019). Plastics — Organic recycling — Specifications for compostable plastics. ISO 17088:2021(en).
  9. The International Organization for Standardization (2013). Plastics — Vocabulary. ISO 472:2013(en).
  10. Directorate, O. E. C. D. S. (n.d.). Oecd glossary of statistical terms – conservation tillage definition.  https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=413.
  11. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Cotton. Encyclopædia Britannica.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/cotton-fibre-and-plant.
  12. From field to fabric- ginning. Cotton. (n.d.).  https://www.cotton.org/pubs/cottoncounts/fieldtofabric/gin.cfm.
  13. WebMD. (n.d.). GOSSYPOL: Overview, Uses, side Effects, precautions, Interactions, dosing and reviews. WebMD.  https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-106/gossypol.
  14. Cotton Incorporated. (2017). LCA update of cotton fiber and fabric life cycle inventory, (1). https://cottontoday.cottoninc.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2016-LCA-Full-Report-Update.pdf
  15. https://textileexchange.org/materials/glossary/#glossary-m
  16. Frias, J.P.G.L., Nash, R. (2019). Microplastics: finding a consensus on the definition. Mar.Pollut. Bull. 138, 145–147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.11.022
  17. EPA. (n.d.). What is a pesticide? https://www.epa.gov/minimum-risk-pesticides/what-pesticide
  18. Zambrano, Marielis & Pawlak, Joel & Daystar, Jesse & Ankeny, Mary & Cheng, Jay & Venditti, Richard. (2019). Microfibers generated from the laundering of cotton, rayon and polyester based fabrics and their aquatic biodegradation. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 142. 394-407. 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.02.062.
  19. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Synthetic fiber. Merriam-Webster.  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/synthetic%20fiber.