A Happy New Year to everyone in Hampshire!

I was asked over Christmas “if you could encourage the county to do just one thing for the planet in 2021 what would it be and why?” There are of course many options. But if I was to choose one thing that we could all do to help the planet it would be all about cotton.

Over 250 million people are employed in the cotton industry world-wide. Many are paid incredibly small wages by multinational firms to produce fashion at low cost for a rapidly expanding global market. At least 7% of labour in developing nations is directly related to the cotton industry. In short it is one of the biggest global industries and also one of the poorest in terms of welfare and salary.

But the challenges with cotton don’t stop at salaries and welfare issues. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) it will take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans and a couple of t-shirts. Put it another way, that is enough drinking water for a person for 10 years! In many countries with a burgeoning cotton industry, the impacts have been rapid and shocking. Much of the cotton found in UK manufactured garments originates around the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The Aral Sea used to be the fourth largest lake in the world; but partially thanks to unsustainable cotton farming has all but dried up - impacting the lives of thousands of people and the wildlife that used the lake.

No fewer than 46 compounds are used in the production of cotton and the dyeing of the material. 5 are viewed by the World Health Organisation as highly toxic and often find their way into rivers and streams rendering fish infertile and depleting oxygen.

But all is not lost. As consumers we can act fast to reverse the impacts of unsustainable cotton farming. There are four simple steps to take:

1) Buy organic cotton. Cotton that carries an organic label may cost a bit more; but uses far less water, doesn’t rely on harmful pesticides, will provide healthier working environments and will not pollute water courses. Some companies are also committed to cleaning up their supply chain using the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) which pledges to lower water consumption and lower pollution. Have a look at their web site and look out for their logo.

2) Never by really cheap online cotton clothes from Asia. If you see something made of cotton for £2 on a web site, you can be pretty certain that the ecological footprint is huge and the amount of money reaching the farmer virtually zero. Boycott cheap cotton from unknown retailers. It is never good to buy cheap cotton.

3) Upcycle, downcycle and recycle. Once you have had enough of your jeans of t-shirt, don’t bin then but take them to a reputable charity shop for selling on to others. If they are not good enough to sell on, downcycle them to create cleaning cloths, rags or patches for quilts.

4) Finally-get browsing in your local charity shop and buy your cotton clothes from there. Not only can you get good quality branded garments at a fraction of the normal price; but you are also putting money back into a good cause and having no harmful impact on the planet.

If we take these four simple steps, we will be helping those in the industry to thrive not just survive, we will be reducing water use and helping nature to recover. If we do nothing else this year, lets change the way we shop for cotton clothing in 2021. It is something we can all do with a clear conscience and literally no excuse not to! Can we make a cotton-picking difference? Yes, we can!