‘Why would I wear organic cotton when I can wear wool? Isn’t wool cheaper? Better for the environment?’ The battle of cotton versus wool has been raging for a long stretch of time with valid arguments from vegans, eco warriors and farmers. The truth of the matter is, organic cotton is far superior to wool when it comes to eco friendliness, un-baa-lievable, no? Not only that, but sheep don’t have to needlessly suffer in the process of covering our bodies. Cottoned on yet?
There are plenty of sheep farmers who claim not to mistreat their sheep and they are not harmed during the shearing. While that may be true for them, the larger scale wool production machine is quite used to brutalising them whenever it suits. Plenty of cuts and abrasions, without pain relief are suffered by the sheep and there have been claims of full abuse; punching, kicking and kneeling on throats to name a few.1 This appalling and saddening reality can be totally avoided with the growth of organic cotton which does not require a single animal for the growing process. Wool farmers provide chemical dips for their sheep to remove parasites and sheep scab. When these initially came into practice in the 1950’s, arsenic was used as a key component. This, or course, is no longer the case, but the chemicals in use can still seep through the ground and into the water below. These are still not exactly safe for humans either; long exposure can cause vomiting, fertility issues and even cancer.2 Though the Health and Safety Executive suggests injectables and pour ons as an alternative, licensed travelling wool dippers are more commonly used.
Growing organic cotton abolishes the need for pesticides and other harmful chemicals and has been proven to, in fact, improve the soil quality as they contain higher organic soil material.3 When using organic practices, it helps the soil actively store carbon which directly combats climate change.4 Not only do pesticides impact the biodiversity in the land and enter the waterways, they are also toxic to humans when absorbed in large quantities. Pesticides are present in sprays, on crops and in the food we eat. The Pesticide Action Network UK explains that we are exposed to a ‘cocktail’ of chemicals day in day out and, whilst we can pinpoint certain symptoms of acute toxicity, such as respiratory issues, there is still a lot we don’t know, thus, farmers are unknowingly executing a large scale experiment.5
Cotton also uses less water than sheep farming, providing it is grown organically and in naturally wet areas. As the GFA states ‘water use for cotton depends a great deal on the method of cultivation’. Eluxe magazine gives us an example; ‘1kg of cotton grown in drier areas of India was found to require over 22,000 litres of water, whereas in the Southern USA, cotton only uses 8,000 litres per kg.’6 Further to that; ‘Compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton needs around 85% less water because of natural crop treatments. These treatments allow for soil to retain significantly more water and so crops need less irrigation.’7
Keeping sheep requires far more land than cotton. For example, 367 times more land is required in Australia for wool over cotton.8 An acre of harvested cotton is approximately 849 pounds per year whereas you can only have a maximum of 10 sheep per acre, making the maximum yield 300 pounds annually. Wool also produces an eye watering amount of greenhouse gases as the keeping and breeding of sheep allows a larger sheep population to thrive, burping and farting more than Uncle Harry after a particularly heavy night. This creates between 20-30 litres of methane a day, a direct contributor to climate change.
Growing organically eliminates the use of harmful pesticides which can poison waterways and damage ecosystems. Not only that, but growing cotton organically helps the soil protect water supplies as it aids the soil in acting like a sponge, soaking up water during floods and storing it longer during droughts.9
Even after all that you’re not concerned with the welfare of the sheep, or the impact on the environment, or even the impact of harmful pesticides, why would you choose organic cotton? Availability, for one, it is readily available as a material in 35 countries, making it accessible and inexpensive. Compared to wool, it is also softer, easier to clean and faster drying, making it a far superior material to don for a person from any walk of life.
Overall, organic cotton is the most environmentally-, sheep- and health-friendly material available. Protecting our soil from hazardous chemicals used in traditional farming and wool production, using crop rotation and seed harvesting to boost production and protect from insects, and halting any abuse towards innocent sheep, organic cotton is a truly hopeful material. Try it and see for yourself.
Bibliography & further reading
2 https://www.groundsure.com/sheep-dip-has-the-wool-been-pulled-over-our-eyes/#:~:text=What%20is%20 sheep%20dip%3F,that%20time%20commonly%20include%20arsenic.
5 https://www.pan-uk.org/health-effects-of-pesticides/#:~:text=Chronic%20(or%20long%20term)%20toxicity &text=Long%20term%20pesticide%20exposure%20has,leukaemia%20and%20non%2DHodgkin's%20ly mphoma.
=What%20is%20sheep%20dip%3F,that%20time%20commonly%20include%20arsenic. https://www.pan-uk.org/health-effects-of-pesticides/#:~:text=Chronic%20(or%20long%2 0term)%20toxicity&text=Long%20term%20pesticide%20exposure%20has,leukaemia%2 0and%20non%2DHodgkin's%20lymphoma.
https://eluxemagazine.com/fashion/which-is-better-organic-cotton-or-wool/ https://blog.greenstory.io/fabric-faceoff-recycled-wool-vs-organic-cotton https://www.collectivefashionjustice.org/articles/is-cotton-more-sustainable-than-wool