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Garment Printing with a Conscience

(October 2004) posted on Fri Nov 12, 2004

Making social and environmental issues a priority in your daily operations may not seem practical when turnaround times and finances are tight. But if you follow the lead of garment printers who have researched the effects of sweatshop labor, chemically treated cotton, and ecologically unfriendly inks, you may just change your mind.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

Cotton is ubiquitous in the textile and garment-printing industries. According to the National Cotton Council of America (NCCA), US textile mills consume an average of 7.6 million bales (one bale = 500 lb) per year. That's a lot of cotton. However, many pesticides are used in the farming of that cotton to increase yields and keep prices down. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) reports that approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insect-icides, and defoliants) are applied to cotton. And statistics provided by the US En-vironmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the agricultural market in the US spent a total of $7.63 billion on pest-icides in 1999--an increase of nearly $2.3 billion from 1990.

What's the problem with pesticides? Adam Nieman, president and CEO of Bienestar Int'l, manufacturer of the No Sweat Apparel line in Waltham, MA, explains that pesticides used in cotton cultivation make the crop one of the most polluting in the world. "[Pesticides] are extremely hazardous to the environment and for people who have to work around it. The toxins involved are brutal, and the agricultural runoff creates downstream pollution," he says.

For Rick Roth, owner of the Pawtucket, RI-based Mirror Image--a screen-printing company that embraces environmentally and socially sound business practices--the issue of pesticides isn't limited to garments. "It's also a food issue. Something like 60% of the cotton seed is used a feed for dairy cattle, so it gets in the food chain as well," he explains.

One of the most serious effects of pesticide use is called spray drift. The EPA defines pesticide spray drift as "the physical movement of a pesticide through air at the time of application or soon thereafter to any site other than intended for application." Also called off-target spray, the drift can have serious effects on human health and the environment.

The problems created by pesticides can be avoided, however, through the cultivation and proper processing of or-ganic cotton. Organic cotton is grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and the farming of organic cotton is beneficial to both the workers and environment.



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