Cheap clothing is costing us the earth, and our pollinators

Cheap clothing is costing us the earth … but what has that got to do with food?


You’re at your favourite café on a Saturday morning. You’ve ordered buckwheat and coconut pancakes served with mango, strawberries, figs, and a generous drizzle of honey, alongside, a flat white.

The last things on your mind as you tuck in are pollinators.


A year ago, I didn’t know that just about everything I order from my favourite café relies on pollinators, from watermelon and passionfruit to cashews and coriander. Pollinators come in the form of bees, flies, butterflies, beetles and bats and are crucial to the cultivation of many common foods. Far beyond the honey that bees are famous for, one third of everything we eat is reliant on pollinators.


Cotton also needs pollinators. That’s right, the stuff we use 29 million tons of a year, enough to produce 29 t-shirts per person per year. The chef & staff preparing your buckwheat and coconut pancake are probably wearing a cotton uniform. Now, let’s assume it’s not one of those run-of-the-mill 65% polyester, 35% cotton blend materials, let’s assume he’s chosen a 100% cotton jacket. Sadly, that 100% is most likely 73% true cotton and 27% filler, chemicals, resins, and binders used in farming and manufacturing.


But what is the relationship between the restaurant’s cotton uniform and the food on your plate? It comes back to pollinators.  


If we want to eat, we need to stop spraying pesticides and that includes during cotton farming. The pesticides sprayed during farming are killing pollinators, those bees and butterflies responsible for the coconut, buckwheat, fruit, and honey comprising your meal. To be frank, no pollinators – no delicious meal. By farming crops without pesticides and other toxic chemicals, we can protect our pollinators as well as birds, marine life, and the broader eco system. For cotton, this is called organic cotton farming.


Organic cotton growers encourage natural, biological methods for the cultivation of cotton that have far less impact on the environment. These methods include the use of organic fertilizers and beneficial insects, crop rotation, and old-fashioned weed control by human hand. Not only do organic production systems reduce the use of toxic and persistent chemicals, organic farming methods also replenish and maintain soil fertility, build biologically diverse agriculture, and support a healthier ecosystem.


So next time you’re tucking into avocado on rye at your favourite café, spare a thought for pollinators and the organic cotton farmers ensuring we’ve still got bees out there feeding us.



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