Textile chemistry free from hazardous chemicals

2020, where are we?

Almost a decade ago, in 2011, the environmental campaign Detox my Fashion caused a sudden acceleration in eliminating groups of chemical substances considered hazardous for human health, setting standards that go well beyond the legal limits imposed by the European REACH regulation.

Fashion has reacted promptly to the solicitation. In a short time, many brands, followed by their suppliers, have adopted lists of "restricted" substances (the so-called M-RSL and P-RSL). Furthermore, chemical laboratories have developed testing packages to meet industry needs; the perimeter of hazardous substances has been better defined. The producers of dyes and chemical auxiliaries have begun to publish green-lists of commercial products that comply with the brands' RSLs and certification protocols. There was also convergence among standards and protocols about the lists and the acceptability limits of "restricted" substances on products and wastewater.

In a few years, the landscape has rapidly improved. Still, a side effect has been the multiplication of brands' requests, often uncoordinated or inconsistent, to suppliers that had to cope with the burden of understanding the brands' demands and pay for the chemical tests.

Ten years later, where are we?

A first result of the ten years of development is the creation of lists of chemical products - with their trade names - "approved" by the leading organizations. For those who must use them, having a list of approved products makes life much more comfortable than checking ex-post if a "prohibited" chemical is detectable on their products or in the company's wastewater. The two most important examples are ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX®, which certifies the chemicals (Auxiliaries, Dyes, Finishing Agents) suitable for a sustainable textile supply chain, and the ZDHC ChemCheck, which establishes the degree of compliance for all chemical products that ZDHC has verified. ZDHC supports ChemCheck with a tool (InCheck) that allows a company to check if the chemicals in its warehouse guarantee the absence of substances that ZDHC believes companies should not use in the textile processes.

Another positive outcome is that a story started by environmentalists with an aggressive campaign, which many considered suspicious, is now led by developers of technical standards, certifiers, business associations, textile, and chemicals businesses.

Let's come now to the numbers. The companies with one or more products certified with the Oeko-Tex 100 standard are over 10 thousand, the dyeing and finishing plants registered on the ZDHC gateway are over 2,500. Interestingly, even two certifications born for different purposes, the GRS to certify the recycled origin of the materials and the GOTS, to certify the materials' organic origin, both have a substantial standard for verifying the chemicals used. There are over 6,300 companies with GOTS certified products and over 8,500 those with GRS certified products.

While there is still a lot to do, it has been a decade well spent.