Cotton, has there ever been a crop like it? 'What has cotton ever done for us?' You might ask, apart from t-shirts and other clothing, cotton wool, upholstery and sanitary products, all those obvious things. But think hard and look around you and you'll start to see other products that might use cotton and you'll maybe realize with a small nod, that it's fairly versatile stuff. Well, think again. You're positively surrounded by cotton in various states and forms that you'd never begin to imagine.

When I read about the processes that take cotton from the plant to its many final varieties such as the t-shirt I am wearing, I perhaps strangely thought back to an old analogy I once heard about how Native Americans made use of a buffalo carcass. It may not be entirely true, but it was designed to make a point as it is now. Of course, the modern cotton industry is different in so many ways, using processes, chemicals and machinery, the damage from which is seriously problematic, but, just like these analogous natives, who stripped every part of the dead animal and allocated a use, some parts broken down further, and then the waste from those bits, further bi-products, given a use until it feels that there wasn't a single cell of that animal that wasn't being worn, carried, or eaten, that's how it feels with cotton. It may not be quite there yet, but almost, as we'll see.

What has Cotton ever done for us?Cotton is broken down to its fibre (the white fluffy stuff) and the seeds. The seeds have their husks removed and the seed is squeezed and squeezed to remove all of the oil, which is used to make edible oils in margarine and mayonnaise, glycerin for explosives, medicines and cosmetics and more. Other oils go into plastics and soaps and a bewildering variety of more obscure applications. What's left over after the oil is removed is about 40% protein and this is used for cattle feed and also fertiliser. But it doesn't stop there. Remember those apparently discarded husks? Well, they too get eaten, mulched into soil to fertilize, used as bran, and also end up in rubber and petrol based plastics.

So having grown some cotton with the main intention of harvesting the nice white fluffy bit for some clothing, (cotton seed use was not common practice till the 1900's, except for growing more cotton of course) yet before we've even started to use the white cloudy bit we know and love we've fed some animals, made some human food products, some rubber, blown some things up and made ourselves pretty, with some leftovers to go into our car dashboard and windshield and to plow back into the soil. So on we go. '

Well there's a multitude of terms for all the different grades and types of fibres we get from the fluffy stuff. Pulps, felts, yearns, some of which get used for those normal every day things that probably sprang to mind at the start of the article, such as cotton for clothing, upholstery, cotton wool and other medical and sanitary uses, wicks for candles, and then on further for use in paper and then more chemical applications that allow its use in toothpaste, car windscreens, photography film, and a vast amount of really plastic looking products that are really terribly un-white or fluffy.