With the U.S. cotton industry ramping up sustainability efforts and consumers voicing their trust in our fiber, the National Cotton Council is encouraged that more light is being shed on a man-made fiber situation some believe is not sustainable.
How is cotton faring with consumers?
• On behalf of Cotton Council International, Harris Insights & Analytics examined the views of more than 7,000 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Germany, Italy, Mexico and China. Natural fibers were viewed as safer, more trustworthy and associated with better quality products than synthetics. Specifically, 83 percent believed cotton is safe for the environment with U.S. cotton rated among the world’s safest growths.
Consumers also associated cotton with sustainability more so than other fabrics such as wool, silk, polyester, rayon or spandex. On the other hand, U.K. respondents, for example, conveyed concern with the environmental impact of manmade fibers specifically pointing to microfibers in the oceans from synthetics such as polyester.
What about this microfiber concern?
• In a previous Cotton’s Agenda column, I was compelled to note this growing environmental threat and referenced a study which attributed an important source of microplastic appeared to be through sewage containing fibers from washing clothes.
Researchers in that study found garments made with polymer-based cloth can release as many as 1,900 microfibers per wash that eventually end up in waterways, even in bottled water, sea salt and fish. The study suggested that as the human population grows and people use more synthetic textiles, contamination of habitats and animals by microplastic is likely to increase.
Since then, this concern has continued to gain recognition worldwide with an increasing number of reports in the news media. For example, a recent Bloomberg article that was carried by other news outlets noted that lawmakers in California and New York have proposed state bills requiring that all new clothing made of more than 50 percent synthetic material carry an additional removable tag that reads: “This garment sheds plastic microfibers when washed.” Under the California bill, the sale or offering for sale of such clothing without this label would be prohibited on and after Jan. 1, 2020.
The Bloomberg article quoted the executive director of the plastic pollution advocacy nonprofit 5 Gyres Institute as saying that apparel tags or stickers would be an opportunity to raise awareness that microfiber pollution is a problem.
The article also mentioned “Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Global Drinking Water,” a study which found that about 83 percent of drinking water samples tested around the world contained microplastics. That investigation’s final report, released in 2017, is at https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_final_report.
I also noted in last year’s column that Cotton Incorporated had commissioned North Carolina State University to investigate what happens to cotton and synthetic microfibers from home launderings. The three-part study is examining degradation rates in wastewater, fresh water and saltwater.
The study already has found that in a waste treatment environment over a 170-day period, cotton degraded by nearly two-thirds while polyester microfibers degraded only less than 5 percent. This should further elevate consumers’ trust in cotton as a sustainable textile and hopefully influence their purchasing decisions.
Gary Adams is president/CEO of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming magazine page.