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Natural women's underwear provides the same comfort as products made from synthetic materials and is often more absorbent.

Find it! Natural women's underwear

From supremely practical to fancy and fun, we've got it all! Choose from organic cotton, modal, and even hemp.

Before you buy

Costly alternatives?: The farming of industrial hemp in the United States has been virtually banned by the federal government since 1957 because of its similarity to marijuana and must be imported from countries such as England, Germany, and Canada.[1] is primarily grown in China's Zhejiang Province although it is grown domestically for commercial purposes on a much smaller scale in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi.[2] Furthermore, environmental costs of the long-distance transportation of bamboo and hemp should be considered. This often means that the eco-conscious choice isn't always the cheap choice—expect elevated prices when choosing between conventional cotton and bamboo or hemp.

Blended fibers: Not every pair of organic cotton or hemp underwear is exclusively made of that fiber—some may contain synthetic fibers such as spandex for stretch purposes.

When you're through: Patagonia's Common Threads Garment Recycling Program allows customers to return worn-out Capilene® Performance Baselayers to the company for recycling.

Choosing natural women's underwear helps you go green because…

  • Cotton, particularly conventional cotton, is grown using unsustainable farming methods, calling for large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as well as water. Fabrics made from hemp, bamboo, and soy fibers do not compromise human health or the environment in their production.
  • Organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration.

The detrimental environmental impact of the underwear industry is rooted in the harvest and production of conventional cotton, considered to be the world's most pesticide-intensive crop. While only 2.4 percent of farmland worldwide is dedicated to cotton, it accounts for 24 percent of global insecticide sales and 11 percent of global pesticide sales.[3] In total, $2 billion worth of chemicals are sprayed on global cotton crops each year, almost half of which are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.[4]

The various chemicals used to treat conventional cotton can harm beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms, pollute ground and surface water, and adversely affect the health of humans and wildlife alike—including fish, birds, and livestock.[5] Additionally, up to 70 percent genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds are used in conventional cotton farming in the United States.[6] The farming of conventional cotton is also water intensive. Approximately 400 gallons of water are required to produce a single cotton undershirt.[7]

The alternatives

You can get out of the conventional cotton rut by trying some new underwear threads, namely hemp and bamboo.

Organic cotton

Along with eschewing the use of chemicals and GMOs, organic cotton production nurtures soil health and fosters biologically diverse agriculture.[8] From 2000 to 2001, an estimated 14 million pounds of organic cotton was harvested in 12 countries—about .03 percent of total global cotton production. The United States and Turkey were the top growers, producing 79 percent of the world's organic cotton supply (along with China and India) for the 2005-2006 harvest.[9] Domestically, Texas is the leading organic cotton producing state. In the US alone, 6,577 acres of organic cotton were planted in 2005.[10] Despite being a leading producer, there are only 12 organic-certified cotton producers in the country and domestic cotton farming—both conventional and organic—is in decline.[11]

To gain official organic certification in the US by a government-approved certifier, cotton must adhere to the same criteria established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for edible crops since cotton seeds and oil are commonly used in food products: 95 percent of the ingredients must be grown in soil that has been free of toxic pesticides and fertilizers for a minimum of three years and cannot contain GMOs.[3] So, while the cotton fiber used to make clothing can be certified as organic under USDA standards, an organic certification program for the clothing itself has not been established.[12] Furthermore, it is possible for a piece of USDA "Certified Organic" cotton clothing to contain 100-percent organic cotton but also contain harmful chemical dyes and finishes.[13]

Organic farming may also be key in fighting global climate change. A study of conventional versus organic farming methods by the Rodale Institute discovered that organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration.[14] In agricultural applications, the more organic matter that is retained in the soil, the more carbon is sequestered. While conventional farming depletes organic matter through the use of chemical fertilizers, organic farming uses animal manure and cover crops, which actually build soil organic matter.

Organic farming further reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by using 37 percent fewer fossil fuels than conventional farming.[15] The Rodale Institute estimates that if all 160 million acres of corn and soybean farmland in the US were switched to organic farming methods, it would be equivalent to removing 58.7 million cars from the road, and would satisfy 73 percent of the proposed US Kyoto targets for CO2 reduction.[16]

Hemp


Despite the controversy surrounding hemp's status as a legal crop—especially in the United States where it is considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance like marijuana—it is an earth-friendly alternative to conventional cotton.[17] Hemp produces three times as much fiber per acre as cotton. Like cotton, hemp requires water and fertilizer to grow but it doesn't need to be treated with pesticides or herbicides.[18] The farming of hemp benefits overall soil conditions by adding nutrients, fostering microbial life, and eradicating weed growth.

In contrast to the dearth of industrial hemp farming in the United States, the European Union initiated a program in the 1990s that provides hemp farmers with subsidies to encourage hemp fiber production. Over the last several years, the leading exporters of processed hemp fiber to the United States have been Romania, Poland, China, India, Canada, and the Philippines.[19]

Bamboo


Bamboo fiber, a natural fiber spun from the pulp of bamboo grass, resembles cotton in its unspun state.[20] However, any other similarities to cotton are small as bamboo is a much more sustainable crop. Bamboo does not require the use of pesticides or fertilizers, needs little water, and is a self-renewing plant, meaning that new shoots grow on an uninterrupted basis. Bamboo also releases a great deal of oxygen into the air—even more than trees—helping to lower levels of carbon dioxide and curb soil erosion.[21]

The same natural antifungal, antibacterial agent found in bamboo plants that acts as a sort of internal pesticide (called "Bamboo kun") is also useful in bamboo clothing, especially underwear, as it controls bacteria growth on the skin and moisture levels.[22] This is especially beneficial to people prone to night sweats and to athletes. Bamboo fabric is a natural insulator and can be worn in both the summer to keep cool and the winter to keep warm.[20]

Controversies

Even though bamboo and hemp are great earth-friendly fibers, they do have some environmental concerns.

Organic cotton

The move towards organic farming has received a fair amount of criticism. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, believes that organic farming techniques are detrimental to the environment. In a December 2006 issue of 59The Economist60 he suggests that low yields from organic farming results in the destruction of more land, while the use of synthetic fertilizers allows farmers to harvest vast amounts of, for example, cotton, in a small area of cultivated land.[23] Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on high-input crops that have increased world food supply, but has been criticized because of the resulting increase in reliance on monoculture cropping and inorganic fertilizer use.[24] His stats have also been challenged by a 2008 report by the Agronomy Journal, which concluded that many organic, low-input crops can yield as much dry matter as conventional crops (and sometimes more) given the right weed control conditions.[25]

Hemp and marijuana

Hemp and marijuana are both members of the plant species Cannabis sativa and have both been considered Schedule 1 controlled substances in the United States since the late 1950s.[17] While it is a crime to grow all forms of cannabis in the United States, it is not illegal to sell hemp products such as paper and clothing. Cannabis grown for industrial purposes—hemp—and cannabis grown for recreational and medicinal uses—marijuana—have a different biological makeup. Both contain two distinct "cannabinoids:" the psychoactive THC and the antipsychoactive CBD. Industrial hemp contains high levels of CBD and low levels—less than 1 percent of THC, while the makeup of marijuana is the reverse. It is nearly impossible to achieve a narcotic high from smoking hemp.[26]

There are movements in the United States on both national and state levels to reintroduce industrial hemp as an agriculturally viable crop. Hemp advocates note the plant's potential as an alternative to tree-based paper, cotton-based clothing, and other items whose production poses environmental risks. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other opposing parties believe that if the ban on hemp farming is lifted it would become easier to grow marijuana alongside it. It is also often assumed that those who support industrial hemp farming are part of a marijuana legalization subculture.[27]

Bamboo

There are several challenges facing bamboo's reputation as an eco-fiber. The growth in popularity of bamboo products has been detrimental to the natural forests in countries where bamboo grows. Existing forests are often cut down and replaced with bamboo plantations, negatively impacting biodiversity. Bamboo can be "over-managed" with chemical weeding and periodic tilling of the land to clear undergrowth. These practices increase erosion and produce a single-species plantation over large areas.

Although bamboo traditionally does not require pesticide and fertilizers, unless it is certified organic, you can’t be sure. In some growing areas, the intensive use of pesticides, weed killers, and fertilizers also affects the environment by releasing toxins into soil and waterways. For textiles, there are no guidelines comparable to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, which insures that a forest has been harvested in a sustainable fashion. However, FSC has begun limited certification of bamboo for wood products.

Glossary

  • carbon sequestration: The process by which carbon is captured (in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere and incorporated into soil, ocean, and plant matter.
  • genetically modified organism (GMO): Created by merging the genetic make-up of two organisms, resulting in a desired byproduct that could otherwise not be found in nature. Engineering GMOs is a common practice in conventional farming, and studies have shown that GMOs pose significant environmental risks such as killing off living, natural organisms and becoming immune to pesticides.

External Links

Footnotes

  1. Drug War Facts - Factbook: Hemp
  2. Columbia News Service - Bluejeans, bed sheets, even caskets--suddenly everything’s made of bamboo
  3. Organic Consumers Association - Clothes for a Change: Background Info
  4. Earth Justice Foundation - The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton
  5. Pesticide Action Network North America - Problems with conventional cotton production
  6. Organic Exchange - About Organic Cotton brochure
  7. US Geological Survey - Water Facts
  8. PAN Germany - Directory for Organic Cotton and Organic Cotton Products
  9. Cotton Fiber Report: Executive Summary, Spring 2006
  10. Organic Trade Association - Organic Cotton Facts
  11. Grist - A Loom With a View
  12. Business Week - Green Threads for the Eco-Chic
  13. Organic Consumers Association - Annual Organic Clothing Sales in U.S. Reach $85 Million
  14. Food and Society Policy Fellows - Organic Farming Fights Global Warming
  15. Straus Communications - Organic Farming Sequesters Atmospheric Carbon and Nutrients in Soils: The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial® Findings
  16. The New Farm - Organic farming combats global warming … big time
  17. Globalhemp.com - Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force Report
  18. Industrial Hemp: For A Better Tomorrow - The Environmental Benefits of Industrial Hemp
  19. Federation of American Scientists - CRS Report for Congress: Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity
  20. wiseGEEK - What is Bamboo Fabric?
  21. Buy Organic - Benefits of Bamboo Clothing
  22. Treehugger - Bamboo Sheets Keep Germs Out of Bed
  23. The Economist - Food politics: Voting with your trolley
  24. Answers.com - Norman Borlaug
  25. Agronomy Journal - Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials: I. Productivity 1990–2002
  26. Arizona Industrial Hemp Council - Hemp vs. Marijuana
  27. Conscious Choice - Hey DEA, Hemp is Not Marijuana