Cloth diapers are soft on your baby’s bum and the environment—but even the most eco-conscious products have an impact. Most cloth diapers consist primarily of cotton, and growing cotton is a very resource-intensive process. Those fluffy white cotton bolls may look clean, but growing them can be dirty business. Insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, defoliants, fertilizer, and lots of water are used to grow conventional cotton. Conventional cotton uses more insecticides—the most hazardous chemicals to human health—than any other single crop. Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho, three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides, are still commonly used in cotton production1. Farmers applying these chemicals and even bystanders on adjacent fields have suffered from poisoning2. After cotton is picked from the field and arrives at the mill, toxic dyes and chemical bleaches are applied during processing. The chemicals used for growing and processing cotton poison the soil, air and ground water, and have been associated with higher incidence of cancer and birth defects in both humans and wildlife.
Cotton insect management is changing in recent years due to exponential growth in popularity of Bt cotton, now planted in 35% of cotton fields worldwide3. Bt cotton is a genetically modified variety of cotton produced by Monsanto. Seeds of the GM crop known as Bt cotton are modified to carry Bacillus thuringiensis proteins which naturally produces a chemical that is toxic to cotton bollworms, moths, butterflies, beetles and flies4. This eliminates the need to use large amounts of broad-spectrum insecticides to kill common leaf-eating pests, but is ineffective against ‘secondary’ pests such as plant bugs, stink bugs and aphids. When common pests are eliminated, the secondary pests proliferate. After only a few years of using Bt cotton, secondary pests become so numerous that farmers must use the same or more pesticide as non-Bt cotton farmers5. In Bt cotton, the insecticide is always present in the plant rather than applied in periodic spraying sessions, which may lead to rapid rates of pest immunities and possibly produce “super” bugs6. “The fabric of our lives” may just lead to our demise!