As an essential agricultural crop and a highly versatile commodity here are some of the uses of cotton.
Cotton refers to the fiber found around the seeds of several species of the plant bearing the same name. Cotton is an essential agricultural crop and is cultivated in over 50 countries around the world. Tens of millions of tons are harvested every year. The value of the world’s cotton production is about USD$50 billion every year. Even though cotton isn’t a food crop, its influence in the economies of many countries and world trade cannot be overemphasized.
What is cotton used for? What makes it such a valuable raw material? Why is it the center of a huge global industry?
1. Cotton Manufacturing End Products
Cotton is a highly versatile commodity responsible for many end products in the market. Below are some of the uses of cotton.
Cotton is the raw material for most types of fabric and textiles used for clothing and other commodities. Once woven, cotton turns into a velvet, corduroy, denim, velour, jerseys, flannel, and chambray.
- Baby and Feminine Care Products
For a long time, non-woven products featured human-made fibers almost exclusively. Today, cotton is used to produce softer and hypoallergenic top sheets, hygiene pads and underwear garments. Cotton is also a common ingredient in lotions, shampoos, and body washes.
- Industrial Applications
Cotton fibers are also used to create swabs and cotton buds. These fibers can also be seen in the production of mattresses, furniture, automobile cushions, and even television sets.
- Other Daily Consumer Products
Cotton is also present in unexpected products, like bookbinders, bandages, ropes, cords, and fishing nets. Furthermore, oil from cotton seeds makes products such as soap, cosmetics, and margarine.
Cotton grows in areas that experience long summers. Planting is best done in the winter so that the cotton ball ripens and the fibers expand under the warm sun. The ball splits, and the fluffy cotton bursts forth. The crop is now ready for harvesting, which generally involves picking cotton by hand. In developed countries, harvesting machines may be used.
- After harvest, the cotton can now be processed. At the gin, the cotton is fluffed and cleaned. Here’s the step-by-step process of processing and manufacturing cotton:
- After cleaning, the next procedure involves the separation of the fiber from the seeds. The washed and de-seeded cotton is compressed into bales to maintain the moisture content.
- The cotton now enters the spinning stage, which involves separating fibers to become yarn using a machine called the carding machine. During this process, the cotton gets thoroughly cleaned, the fibers are then combed and spun to form soft textured yarn.
- Next comes the weaving and kneading. The process involves intertwining and interlacing the yarn to form a fabric. The machine used for making fabrics is called the loom. Technology has improved weaving techniques on top of employing bigger and faster looms, which produce different kinds and quality of weaves and knits.
- The next step is the dying of the fabric, which is highly toxic and uses a lot of water; thus, protective gears are a must. The toxicity arises from the synthetic dyes and chemicals employed in the process. The process has an adverse impact on the environment, but an environmentally friendly option that uses natural dyes is available.
- Finally, the fabric is cut into different shapes, sizes, and designs. They are then pieced together through stitching using industrial sewing machines. The garments are finally cleaned and pressed and prepared for distribution.
4. Impact of Cotton Production
Like any other huge manufacturing plants, the cotton industry affects the environment. The amounts of chemicals used in cultivating cotton crop are very high. By estimate, one pound of processed cotton requires 150g of chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides to produce. There are also concerns about the poisons that remain in the soil and those washed into water bodies, which lead to eutrophication and wildlife poisoning.
Furthermore, the processing procedures employed during dyeing also use synthetic chemicals. Synthetic chemicals are not biodegradable, which means they stick around in the environment for a long time. These chemicals cause soil and water pollution. Additionally, they affect those who work in harvesting and producing cotton. Some of the common health concerns involved in manufacturing cotton include respiratory disorders, chemical poisoning, and many others.
The cotton manufacturing industry is profitable. The profits are unlikely to dip any time soon, especially with the steady increase in demand from the growing population. However, the industry also has a significant impact on the environment. Still, there’s promising research involving the development of a long-term solution by switching to organic cotton manufacturing from seeding process to distribution. Sustainable practices will reduce pollution and protect consumers from the chemicals that stay in the fabric long after production.
Freddie Jordan has been a blogger for more than ten years. Freddie loves to write articles about technology, law, and real estate. Aside from making sure that his own blog is updated with different content, Freddie also submit articles to other websites.