Approximately 200 million tons of cotton are produced each year in textile mills all over the world. Cotton is breathable and durable and is easier to wash and care for than other fabrics. As a result, it’s used for virtually every type of clothing from undergarments to coat, and even in home furnishings and medical supplies. Cotton and its advantages as a textile, however, come at a very high price.
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Traditional farming and production methods of cotton cause massive harm to the environment. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it takes about 5,000 gallons of water to grow a kilo of cotton- just enough for a shirt and a pair of pants. The cotton crop also accounts for 24 percent of the world’s global sales of insecticides, while accounting for only 2.4 percent of cropland.
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Organic cotton does not require commercial insecticides to produce. However, it still requires a considerable amount of water to grow, and many organic cotton textile mills, particularly those outside the United States, produce cotton that still contains inorganic chemicals and treated with artificial dyes. In addition, transporting organic cotton from other countries adds to its carbon footprint and makes it prohibitively expensive.
A few companies, however, are choosing to make high-quality fabric from a resource that does not need to be grown, watered, cultivated, or imported from other countries: used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. PET bottles are turned into a recycling center, where they are washed and turned into flakes, which are then transformed into recycled fiber, then into fabric. Recycled polyester from PET bottles can also be blended with virgin polyester or other eco-fabrics.
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The United States throws away 60 million plastic bottles per day, of which only a small percentage are recycled. Turning PET bottles into fabric prevents them from clogging up landfills: Approximately 25 two-liter PET bottles can be made into enough recycled polyester for a ski jacket. Fabric from recycled PET bottles tends to be more wrinkle-resistant than organic fibers, holds dyes better, experiences less shrinkage, and can be treated to enhance performance and comfort. In addition, while fabric from recycled PET bottles is slightly pricier than regular polyester, it is cheaper than cotton and is the least expensive of all eco-fabrics.