6.6 Materials: Other Natural Materials (Cotton)

Author: Karla Hristovska

ABSTRACT: Cotton is one of the most commonly used natural materials in the world – largely due to the fashion industry. However, the constant need for the newest clothing items in the fashion world and a never-ending production of everyday fabrics in the textile industry makes cotton production very detrimental to the wellbeing of the earth and the journey to global reduction of our carbon footprint.

Image: Cotton by Jim Black from Pixabay 


Cotton is a soft and fluff fiber that grows in a boll (protective case), around the cotton seeds and is a descendant of the genus Gossypium. The shrub originates from tropical and subtropical regions around the world, and is mainly found in the Americas, Africa, Egypt, and India.

Cotton is a very important material considering it is used for numerous essential items such as clothing, home furnishings, and industrial products. The production of cotton is a very thorough process and consists of picking the cotton, separating the cotton bales to be compressed and stored, and then shipped to textile mills for further production where they are made ready for spinning and weaving.

There are many issues with the cotton that is produced. Most of these issues come from the fact that textile production is the world’s second most polluting industry right after the oil industry, which is something that cotton contributes directly to. This is mainly due to the fashion industry, which produces 60 million tonnes of garments a year. In a world where everyone wants instantaneous results, the fast fashion industry is no different as the number of seasons have increased from two a year (spring/summer) to as many as 50-100 micro seasons in a year. The increase in demand for new clothes decreases the chance of consumers wanting to recycle their old clothes as they want to keep up with the current trends, and this in turn is detrimental to carbon footprint in terms of emission from cotton production.

Source: CO2 Emissions of a 100% White Cotton T-Shirt

The amount of water it takes to produce cotton is what makes it a harmful process which can be put into perspective when looking at the production of one cotton t-shirt, which takes 10,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilo of cotton. Not only does the fibre require large amounts of water, but surface and ground waters are often diverted to irrigate cotton fields, which leads to the loss of freshwater due to inefficient sustainability efforts.

The harmful effects of cotton and what comes with it is often overlooked by the general public as it is so common and an integral part of many everyday products we use.

Consumers can do their part to contribute in an effort to mitigate their cotton carbon footprint by avoiding purchasing from fast fashion brands, recycling clothing more often, and purchasing green alternatives to basic cotton products.


CO2 Emissions of a 100% White Cotton T-Shirt [Photograph]. Retrieved March 4, 2021, from Down To Earth. Fashion industry may use a Quarter of World’s Carbon Budget by 2050. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/environment/fashion-industry-may-use-quarter-of-world-s-carbon-budget-by-2050-61183

MasterClass. (2020, November 08). What is cotton? A complete guide to the history, characteristics, and uses of cotton. Retrieved April 06, 2021, from https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-cotton#quiz-0

Mary, T. P. (2020, June 21). THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF COTTON. Retrieved from http://www.gittemary.com/2020/06/the-environmental-impact-of-cotton-.html

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