Annually, the world produces about 25 million tonnes, or 110 million bales of cotton. It’s an extremely popular and highly sought after material, but cotton has a dark side (like Anakin). Cotton takes a nasty toll on the environment – every year, land, air, and waterways are affected and often destroyed.
In addition to being softer, hypoallergenic, zero static, and lower surface friction, S&G’s 100% Eucalyptus lyocell sheets are way more eco-friendly than cotton sheets. Yep, this is one of those rare times when high-quality and environmentally-friendly aren’t at odds.
Here are 6 reasons why cotton is unsustainable (yes, even organic cotton).
Every kilogram of cotton fabric production requires 20,000 liters of water. To use a more concrete example, an average cotton bed sheet uses about 4,000 liters of water, while S&G’s sheets use about 150 liters. In freedom (/imperial) units, that’s up to 1,000 gallons conserved, or an estimated 96% reduction, saving up to 5 years' worth of the average person's drinking water per sheet set.
Cotton production accounts for approximately 11% of global pesticide use and an estimated 16% of global insecticide use. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “seven of the 15 pesticides commonly used on cotton in the United States are listed as ‘possible,’ ‘likely,’ 'probable,’ or ‘known’ human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.” Because Eucalyptus trees are naturally insect-repellent, lyocell uses no pesticides or insecticides in its raw material production, an estimated infinity-percent reduction (give or take).
Once placed in a landfill and exposed to those hungry microbes, Lyocell biodegrades nearly twice as fast as cotton, without leaving a trace. Though instead of throwing away unloved sheets (like those cotton ones once you order ours), please donate them via our #Give2Sheets program and get 10% off any S&G order for being an awesome person.
Currently, cotton crops use about 2.5% of the world’s arable land (land suitable for growing crops). This roughly corresponds to an area the size of Germany. If not for cotton production, this land could be used for planting food crops to fully feed about 24 million people every year. Eucalyptus trees, on the other hand, can be grown on non-arable land that can’t be used for crops. To make our lyocell, wood pulp is sourced from sustainably managed, renewable, biodiverse farms managed in coordination with an NGO called Canopy that helps protect native and indigenous plants, animals, and peoples. (And no trees are harvested from Australia to avoid harming our favorite marsupials.)
Globally, cotton production’s energy usage is around 4,500,000 TJ (terajoules). Again, to use a more concrete example, a set of cotton sheets uses approximately 27 KwH of energy, while our lyocell sheets require about 19kwH – that’s 30% less energy, which adds up when you remember 25 million metric tons of cotton are harvested globally each year.
As recently as 2011, organic cotton accounted for less than 1% of global cotton production, so there’s a pretty good chance many of the cotton products you own are conventionally grown. However, even organic cotton isn’t ideal – it requires more water and emits more greenhouse gases to produce the same amount of fiber as conventionally-grown cotton. Additionally, organic pesticides may actually be worse for the environment. (We get it, this stuff is absurdly complicated, so it’s difficult to determine what the right thing to do is).
We’re not knocking cotton – it’s a versatile material with a long history and innumerable uses. Many awesome things are currently made from cotton: our favorite college T-shirts, trucker hats, and those tiny ear-cleaning things that you’re not supposed to put anywhere near your ears (but come on, we all do).
But cotton comes with a significant cost, and it’s important to address that. At the end of the day, sustainable purchasing habits rely on you...calyptus. (Sorry.)
While the carbon footprint our Eucalyptus lyocell sheets isn’t quite zero, the closed-loop process used in our fabric’s production requires far less water, significantly less energy, and no insecticides or pesticides. Lyocell doesn’t contaminate the ground and air with harmful chemicals, and our trees can grow on non-arable land and don't come from ancient or endangered forests. We’re obviously super biased, but we think lyocell is a big step in the right direction, and we can’t wait to introduce you to all the things that can be sustainably made from cellulosic rayon (plant-based fiber)!
In future blog posts, we’ll compare the sustainability of S&G’s eucalyptus lyocell sheets vs microfiber/polyester and bamboo viscose sheets. Get amped.
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