Non-organic cotton has been called the world’s dirtiest crop because of its unparalleled use of insecticides, water, and land, and its high level of Green House Gas emissions. Conventional agricultural practices cause soil erosion and chemical run-off into water systems, which can mean that weeds and insects become resistant to herbicides and pesticides. In non-organic farming, 320 pesticides can be routinely used. Organic farmers are permitted to use just 15, all derived from natural ingredients, and only under very restricted circumstances. They prefer to decrease or avoid pest and disease problems without the use of chemical inputs, instead using crop rotation and selecting crop varieties with a natural resistance to such bothers.
Not only do these practices significantly reduce soil and water contamination, they also combat soil erosion, which, in turn, combats climate change. This is because healthy soils are a major container of carbon, storing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and five times as much as forests.
Organic wool comes from farms that prioritise the well being of the sheep and the environment. Organic sheep are reared, fed, sheltered, and transported in ways that maximises their comfort and minimizes their stress. They are fed organic feed, grazed on organic land, and are given free range to pursue their natural behaviour. Farmers take a preventative approach to disease so animals are not routinely given antibiotics, wormers, or pesticides. Cruel practices such as mulesing are prohibited.
With regards to the processing of the wool, there are strict requirements that ensure that the chemicals used are non-toxic and are biodegradable. This is in contrast to non-organic wool manufacturing which uses tens of thousands of highly toxic chemicals including heavy metals and formaldehyde, which have been associated with cancer, birth defects, and hormonal and reproductive effects in both humans and wildlife. The end result is that the final products do not contain allergenic, carcinogenic, or toxic chemical residues on them. These residues would inevitably be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, causing a number of health problems.
Similarly to organic sheep, organic cows are reared with their well-being and the environment in mind. The same practices regarding feeding, and disease control thus apply. One of the largest problems with conventional leather production however, is the tanning process, which is extremely toxic for people as well as the environment.
There have emerged a few organic leather brands that are attempting to reverse the damage of commercial tanneries. Their leather is free from chrome, metal, formaldehyde, sodium sulphide, glutaraldenhyde, and sulphuric acid – they use only natural materials to cure, preserve and tan the leather. These all natural, all biodegradable bark tannins, plant tannins, lime, or smoke keeps the process environmentally friendly, and means that the non-toxic wastewater can be used to re-fertilise the fields that raise the cattle.