Cotton. It’s Just A More Sustainable Fiber Solution.
It’s a well-known fact that cotton is the preferred choice for customers due to its perfect mix of softness, strength, and flexibility. But what also makes cotton popular is the fact that it’s a sustainable choice, too.
Cotton Processing — A Time-Tested Method
While synthetic fibers like rayon and polyester go through a long and complicated process before reaching the consumer, cotton goes through a fairly simple one: after being plucked from the field, the gin separates the plant from the seed, and then the Barnhardt purification process cleans and whitens the cotton, ultimately making it absorbent. Then the cotton’s ready for its wide array of uses.
Compare the cotton vs rayon process for yourself.
Cotton’s Unsophisticated–And Homegrown–Supply Chain
And when it comes to supply chain, cotton is born and raised (meaning, harvested and converted) right here in the USA. Once again, rayon can’t say that, remotely. In fact, rayon basically travels around the world before it ever hits retail shelves.
Much of the feedstock to produce rayon is produced from trees grown and pulped in Africa or South America, and then it’s shipped to Asia or Europe for conversion to rayon. Only then does rayon find its way to North America. That long and winding path could hardly be considered a sustainable solution.
Of course, before the supply chain ever comes into play, cotton crushes its competitors in renewability. A cotton plant has an eight to nine month renewable life cycle. Rayon, on the other hand, comes from mature trees. These trees take 15 to 20 years to grow.
The math’s pretty simple; while those trees targeted for rayon are growing, a decade and a half of cotton crops (at minimum) have been harvested.
Farming Innovations Reduce The Use Of Resources
Cotton has been around for centuries. While that’s proof enough of its popularity, it also translates into finely honed farming practices that have evolved to be more efficient over the last couple of decades. When considering water usage, soil loss and energy used for production, the numbers have steadily declined over the past 20 years.
Most of the U.S. cotton crop is now irrigated exclusively from rain, seeds now require less pesticides and tillage, and for every pound of cotton fiber, there are roughly 1.6 pounds of other useful products being created, such as cottonseed oil, dairy feed, and mulch.
There’s a reason cotton is called “The Fabric of Our Lives.” By its very nature—along with some innovative growers and researchers—cotton represents the natural choice, and plays an integral part in our daily lives.
And the only thing more exciting than the advancements that cotton production has made over the last 20 years is imagining what cutting edge practices will be developed in the future.
For more information about cotton sustainability, visit our Cotton Library.