As we learn about cottons environmental impacts, mills and manufacturers are looking to cotton alternatives, as this is what the future of denim will look like. But, for now, cotton is still the primary fibre in denim production.
Cotton is mostly grown in monoculture and is a very pesticide-intensive crop. Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used worldwide.
These pesticides are then washed out in the soil, and pollute rivers and groundwater. The chemicals used not only get rid of the pests, but also their good bacterias necessary for healthy soil! This interferes with the ecosystem and reduces the amount of biodiversity significantly.
With mass production of cotton, large amounts of water are required for irrigation. This causes the soil to degrade without careful farming measures. Soil degradation reduces its ability to store carbon and thus, cannot help when a considerable amount of carbon dioxide is released from producing industrial fertilizers. Certain lakes have also dried up due to soil salinization.
As you can see, conventional cotton has a significant impact on the environment and that is why we must start looking to alternatives.
What fibres to look for:
Organic Cotton is grown with NO PESTICIDES, but is very hard to scale for mass quantities. There is also the argument that this will take away from land that could otherwise be used to grow food.
FAIRTRADE cotton means that all farmers are guaranteed a living wage for what they grow and sell.
BCI Cotton stands for BETTER COTTON INITIATIVE. This program train smaller farms to grow and harvest their crops in an environmentally friendly way by following certain guidelines:
- Use just the right amount of fertilisers
- Use just the right amount of water for irrigation
- Manage the planting such that water does not pool” around the roots.
- Control the use of pesticides.
Hemp is known for its ability to capture carbon from the air and can also decontaminate polluted soils. It also requires a significantly less amount of water to grow compared to cotton.
REFIBRA™ is a revolutionary fibre made from cotton waste fabrics and Lenzing's renowned Tencel fibre. It combines the best of two worlds to create one of the most ecological wood-based fabrics on the planet. The recycling of cotton waste fabrics into virgin textile TENCEL™ fibres offers a practical solution to move us towards a circular economy in the apparel industry.
Recycled Cotton is the holy grail of fibres! I would love to see a world where its possible to have 100% recycled and recyclable jeans in a closed loop system. 765,000 litres of water can be saved per ton of recycled cotton!
Tencel is a cellulosic fibre coming from tree bark. It is a “greener” fibre than cotton or many other common textile fibres as It is grown in a sustainable manner - no pesticides are required to grow the trees. An organic solvent is used to dissolve the wood chips into a solution. The chemical used to dissolve these chips is very expensive so it is recycled after the process is complete.