For all its virtues, cotton is the preferred choice of material for most of our clothing. I even purchased a few shirts, which had a label proudly displaying “100% Organic Cotton.” Similarly, it feels good when I know; that the paper I use has “XX% recycled fibre in it.” Despite all these feel good labels, it’s a marketing gimmick after all. By trumpeting the narrow virtues of the product, we easily miss the big picture and miss the numerous negative impacts of our purchase. My Cotton shirt was indeed organic, the farmer who grew the cotton, did not use pesticide on his crop. Cotton crop alone accounts for 10% of the worlds pesticide. The organophosphates (which cause central nervous system damage in humans) that they spray, to control bugs and weeds, ends up in streams and rivers. Given this damage, the benefits of Organic cotton are indeed laudable. Then there is the downside. Cotton is a very thirsty crop; it took about 2.5 tonnes of water to make the cotton for my shirt. The shirts I purchased had various hues. Cotton yarn is bleached, dyed and finished with industrial chemicals that include chromium, chlorine and formaldehyde, each a toxin in its own sense. Cotton, resists absorbing dye, so when a dyed yarn is rinsed, a large amount rinses into the factory wastewater, which is pumped into our local rivers. These dyes harbour carcinogens- hence workers in dye plants have unusually high rates of leukaemia. Similarly, various products make claims on being healthy or environmentally friendly based on a single attribute (fried snacks do not become healthy just because they have zero transfat or no cholesterol). Indeed nothing made industrially can be utterly green or healthy only relatively so. When my wife explained to me on how a drug discovery is made, I realised the immense amount of research that goes into such a find. The care taken to learn about the impact of the molecule on humans, its metabolism in the body and the time taken for it to be eliminated from our system is truly commendable. However, how much research actually goes into studying what happens to the eliminated molecule. These chemicals once eliminated do not just disappear. Take for example all those tiny doses of synthetic estrogens, found in birth control pills. Even though the human body excretes these estrogen compounds in the form of a metabolite, bacteria in sewage cleave the molecule and recreate the original compound. This estrogen, is known to “feminise” male fish (male fish stop making sperm and instead produce eggs). Similarly any of us who take antibiotics or use antibiotic soap add, it to the 11,000 tons of antibiotics used annually by animal farms.
To know our shopping impact, I recommend the site www.goodguide.com. Though mostly focused on US and European products, we will find many products we used in
reviewed. Use it in making an informed purchase, make a difference to your
health and environment. India