Hammers, broomsticks, bolts and other metal objects, wire, Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes, baseball caps, a ribbon band saw, even a dead cat — these are some of the objects that have been found in U.S. cotton bales going to textile mills.
And says Frederick Barrier, vice president of North American sales for Staplcotn at Greenwood, Miss., it’s a trend that’s increasing, and one that has potential to damage the long-time outstanding reputation of American cotton.
“U.S. cotton has been the preferred growth by the world’s textile mills for many years,” he said at the joint meeting of the Delta Council Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee and Southern Cotton Ginners Association. “We’ve had less contamination in our cotton than any other supplier, and the mills have come to count on that.
“But in the last two years,” Barrier says, “we’ve seen things change dramatically, with more of our customers reporting contaminants. The most prevalent item is plastic — shopping bags, polypipe, module straps, nylon ropes, vegetable ground cover, module covers, plastic of almost every kind. Our buyers tell me this has been giving them fits.”
He showed T-shirts in which black plastic had got into the yarn and then into the finished product. “Consumers don’t want to buy T-shirts with contaminated fabric, so they have to be sold at a huge discount or discarded.”
Most mills don’t have the technology to detect this plastic material until it shows up in their yarn, Barrier notes. “The contamination issue is “very important to the U.S. cotton industry. It’s to the best interests of our farmers and ginners, and our cotton infrastructure, that we do all we can to eliminate this contamination and maintain our reputation for highest quality cotton.
“In the U.S., we now consume only 3.5 million bales of the cotton we produce; the rest goes to exports. The world doesn’t have to buy our cotton — they have other choices — so it’s important for us to do all we can to provide our customers with the most contaminant-free cotton possible.
“I think industry needs to come together, understand the problem, and educate everyone along the line about the critical need to stop this problem.”
Another problem in the last few years, Barrier says, is higher levels of bark in cotton from the Memphis/Eastern region. “In 2010, the region had less than 25,000 bales that were reduced because of bark. In 2011, that increased to 147,000 bales, and in 2012, almost 800,000 bales.
“We can sell it, but at a discount — plus the loss of any potential premium for grade. In 2012, the discount for bark exceeded $15 million for the region. There’s no consensus on what’s causing it, but it’s important that we try and get a handle on it, because that’s $15 million out of your pockets.”