Organic cotton could reduce fresh water consumption by over 90%

Organic cotton could reduce fresh water consumption by over 90%

Switching to organic cotton could reduce fresh water consumption by over 90% and energy use by more than 60%, according to new research.

The report, 'Cool Cotton – Cotton and Climate Change', from UK charity Soil Association, found organic cotton could also cut the global warming impact of the fibre's production by 46% compared to non-organic cotton.

What's more is that carbon dioxide emissions could increase to 300m tonnes by 2020 if current cotton practices remain unchecked, the report notes.

Some 26m tonnes of cotton was produced globally in 2013/14, on around 33m hectares of land in 100 countries, using 2.5% of the world’s farmland. And some 100m households, most in the some of the world’s poorest countries, are dependent on cotton farming.

Globally, cotton production releases 220m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, and one tonne of non-organic cotton produces 1.8 tonnes. In addition, the Soil Association says cotton is responsible for 16% of the world's insecticide use – more than any other crop.

However, organic cotton produced in 2013/14 saved the equivalent of nearly 95,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water compared to non-organic, according to the charity. The energy saved could have kept a 60-watt light bulb going for over 57,000 years, and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was the equivalent of driving a car around the world more than 14,000 times.

And demand for organic cotton is growing. In 2014, the global market for organic cotton grew by 67% and is now worth an estimated $15.7bn. In the UK, sales of Soil Association certified textiles rose 3.4% to GBP18.6m (US$29.1m) last year. Global production of organic cotton is estimated to increase by 15-20% in 2014/15.

As well as environmental savings, organic cotton is as more more profitable than non-organic, the association argues. A long-term study in India found that yields of organic cotton were 14% lower, but costs were reduced 38%.