We all own cotton garments, but not all cotton is created equal. In this entry we attempt to distinguish the impact that different types of cotton have on the environment, mainly differentiating conventional cotton from more sustainable alternatives – organic cotton, recycled cotton, and deadstock cotton.


Conventional cotton has long been a go-to for clothing, but its environmental footprint is cause for concern. It takes a staggering 1200 liters of water to produce just one shirt. A note on this statistic, this is a global average; obviously, it takes more water to grow cotton in dry areas while cotton in wetter climates benefit from rainfall. Regardless, the cultivation of cotton demands excessive amounts of water. Despite accounting for only 2.4% of the world's cultivated land, conventional cotton uses 6% of the world's pesticides and 16% of its insecticides. The pesticides and insecticides are chemicals that pollute groundwater and harm surrounding bodies of water, soil health, and biodiversity.
The health of farmers involved in its cultivation is also compromised. A study completed by Purdue found that in some regions, pesticides used for cotton have been linked to DNA damage, hair loss, nausea and chronic endocrine disorder.

Organic cotton emerges as a much more sustainable alternative. It relies on 80% rainwater, reducing the strain on water resources. Free from GMOs, organic cotton cultivation supports biodiversity and promotes healthy soil. By eschewing pesticides, fertilizers, and insecticides, it not only prevents water pollution but also safeguards the health of consumers and farmers alike.

Recycled cotton offers a unique solution by repurposing post-consumer materials. By eliminating natural resource inputs, it minimizes the environmental impact associated with conventional cotton. However, there are limitations, as recycled cotton can't be recycled again. Also, there are inevitable CO2 emissions from the collection, processing, and shipping of cotton scraps. Nonetheless, the overall environmental impact of producing clothing from recycled cotton is significantly reduced from production using virgin cotton. Recycled cotton also offers an alternative to trashing old garments and instead gives a second life to existing items. 

Deadstock cotton refers to the unused and unsold textile materials that were produced for a particular purpose but, for various reasons, were not utilized or sold. This surplus fabric could result from overproduction, manufacturing errors, changes in design, or the cancellation of orders by retailers. Essentially, deadstock fabric represents excess inventory that has not entered the market for its intended use. By repurposing existing materials, deadstock cotton helps minimize waste. It reduces the need for new production and limits environmental impact, making it a more sustainable option.