Soil Health

Cotton: Natural and Renewable

Cotton is a natural and renewable plant product. Growers have been planting this crop for generations using the same land and deriving most of what it needs, like sunlight, rainwater and carbon dioxide, directly from nature. Growing cotton along with cover crops and rotational crops help maintain and increase soil quality that enable cotton growers to improve the soil they farm and help ensure the success of future crops. Cover crops and crop rotation are two key practices that underpin the regenerative agriculture movement.

Polyester: Energy Intensive and Extractive

Polyester is the most commonly used synthetic fiber, making up more than half of the global fiber market in 2018.1 It is also made from crude oil, just like plastic; it is plastic. This means that polyester relies on a non-renewable resource extracted from the earth in a way that releases greenhouse gases into the environment and can cause other environmental impacts.2 Even when recycled, an energy-intensive process, polyester will never be biocompatible. Also, the mechanical recycling process usually produces fibers of lower quality requiring them to be blended with virgin fibers to achieve garment performance specifications and cannot be indefinitely recycled, rather the recycled textile would only get one additional use cycle.3

Producing polyester is also more energy intensive than producing cotton. While one kilogram of cotton requires around 17 kilowatt hours (kwh) of energy to produce, a single kilogram of polyester requires over 35 kwh to produce – more than double the energy! This difference in energy could power a common LED home light bulb for 88 days in your home.4

A Smart Choice for Our Future

As sustainable, biodegradable products continue to grow in popularity and we say goodbye to single-use and plastic-based items, cotton has strong appeal. Based on a 2016 life cycle assessment from Cotton Incorporated,5 cotton products continue to become more durable due to new finishes, treatments and constructions. Cotton, as a natural fiber, is also biodegradable and recyclable. In addition to its role in sustainable fabric production, the cotton plant also produces several byproducts. In the United States, cottonseed is used as part of cattle feed rations. Virtually every part of the cotton plant can be utilized in products as diverse as condiments and motorcycle windshields.

THE LATEST

How Cotton Can Fit Into a Sustainable Future

How Cotton Can Fit Into a Sustainable Future

Consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability and how the choices they make affect the environment. Responses to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ survey show that consumer interest in sustainability and apparel has increased from 46% in 2011 to 49.7%...

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Celebrating the Innovations of Cotton Growers

Have you ever picked up your go-to cotton t-shirt and considered how this garment came from a farm to your closet? While many of us appreciate the qualities this natural fiber brings to our favorite clothes, it’s easy to forget that what we are wearing started with a...

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Power Plant: Fiber and Food from Cotton

When you think of cotton, you think of the fiber for clothing and personal care items. Did you know the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates cotton as a food crop? The food service and restaurant industries have been using Cottonseed oil, a coproduct of cotton...

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  1. Textile Exchange: Preferred fiber market report (2019).
  2. CFDA, A New Textiles Economy Report 2017. https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/polyester.
  3. Gustav Sandin and Greg M. Peters, “Environmental Impact of Textile Reuse and Recycling – A Review,” Journal of Cleaner Production 184 (2018): pp. 353-365, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.266.
  4. CFDA, A New Textiles Economy Report 2017. https://cfda.com/resources/materials/detail/polyester.
  5. Cotton Incorporated, “The Life Cycle Inventory & Life Cycle Assessment of Cotton Fiber & Fabric,” n.d., https://cottonleads.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Cotton-LEADS-LCA-2016.pdf.