About the blog: What Things Are Made Of
AMERICA'S GLOBAL DEPENDENCY FOR NEARLY EVERYTHING
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
This particular shirt is 100% cotton, and “Hecho en Mexico.” For a future post, I’ll write about 50-50 blends of cotton and polyester, but for now I want to address the mineral underpinnings of this cotton, something that is grown.
Even things that are grown require minerals. Think soil and fertilizer and pesticides. Yes, I know there is a small and growing movement toward “organic agriculture,” including cotton farming, but it is tiny compared to the industrial scale of most textile crops. World-wide, 25% of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers contribute to cotton’s growth.
Ninety percent of the cost of nitrogen fertilizer is in the cost of the natural gas that becomes ammonia and ultimately the nitrogen component. Some comes from coal, but natural gas, mostly from the U.S., is the feedstock for most of it. Potash, another mineral vital in fertilizers (the source for potassium) is mined in New Mexico and extracted from brines in Utah and Michigan, adding up to a 686-million-dollar business employing more than 1,000 workers. But the U.S. fertilizer industry is so big we also import 73% of more than three million tons of potash each year. Most of it comes from Canada, but Belarus supplies about 5% of our potash imports.
Pesticides have a well-deserved negative reputation. They are, after all, killers, and they have negatively impacted humans and beneficial animals and plants as well as pests. Whole books and advertising campaigns champion and condemn their value and their evil. For now, suffice it to say that they are ultimately made from chemicals derived from minerals, from oil and natural gas to arsenic and chlorine. And love them or hate them, they are used in agriculture on a huge scale world-wide.
Farming of course requires other mineral-based equipment and supplies, from tractors and their fuel to water-supply systems. My primary point in this post is to highlight the extreme interdependency on a global scale of the things we take for granted. And to point out that a label like “Made in Mexico” or “Made in USA” isn’t a black-or-white statement.
My t-shirt’s imprint boasts at least six colorful dyes. I’ve posted previously about the deep blue color ultramarine, and again the topic of mineral pigments fills more than one book. That’s enough for now.
Photo by Lady von Gaga-Gaza.