U.S. cotton has the reputation as the cleanest lint in the world. This distinction is under threat these days by an increased amount of plastic contamination found in shipments received by domestic textile mills.

Last year, plastic contamination moved from an ongoing concern to a front-burner issue for the cotton industry. U.S. textile mills notified the National Cotton Ginners Association (NCGA) and others about thick plastic films found in the cotton received by the mills.

This finding has the U.S. cotton industry on high alert. The plastic threatens U.S. cotton’s clean reputation.

“The goal as a ginner is to produce and provide the best lint and fiber in the world,” said Richard Kelley, NCGA President and the owner-president of the Burlison Gin Company in Burlison, Tenn.

“We cannot provide the best fiber in the world if it’s contaminated.”

Kelley and NCGA Executive Director Harrison Ashley discussed the plastic contamination issue with cotton growers, ginners, and other industry representatives during the 2013 Arizona Cotton Industry Meeting in Carefree, Ariz. in early May.

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The NCGA evaluated the contaminated cotton samples provided by the mills. The thickness of the plastic contaminants ranged from 5/10s of an inch to 6-mils thick. The thinner plastic is common in plastic grocery store or garbage bags blown by wind into farm fields.

The thicker plastic in the samples was from ditch liners in vegetable production where cotton is later grown, plus the plastic wrapped around cotton bales from on-board module builders at harvest.