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Textile Firms Work on Ways to Remove Hazardous Chemicals From Supply Chains

There is strong industry agreement that removal of hazardous chemicals from the textile and leather supply chains is important, but how to achieve the result is more complicated.

A new survey of 32 major companies from across the textile and leather supply chain, including manufacturers, chemical formulators, brands and retailers, found most in agreement that there is a case for removing hazardous chemicals and that the benefits of implementing a manufacturing restricted substance list (MRSL) outweigh the costs.

This opinion was especially strong among companies that had already adopted an MRSL in collaboration with ZDHC, which stands for zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. In the survey and resultant report, conducted with PwC, a number of respondents suggest that costs and benefits relating to sustainable chemicals management are not being monitored in their organizations. They said quantification would require significant effort involving many departments of their companies.

The respondents also said further convergence within the ZDHC program is needed, since there are many ways that companies engage and align with ZDHC programs. This puts some limitations on the efficiency that ZDHC can achieve right now and a common approach is needed moving forward.

Survey participants also indicated that it does not take big teams to act and that they did not need to set up new systems or programs. Instead, they were able to adapt existing ones to include the restriction of hazardous chemicals, the report said.

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ZDHC noted that the use of chemicals in the fashion industry’s supply chain has a significant impact on the environment. The fashion industry, with an estimated value of $1.3 trillion and employing more than 300 million people along the value chain, is fragmented, with many different process steps and stakeholders involved in creating a fashion item. Each of these steps is associated with an external impact on the environment and by extension on society, the report stated.

The earlier stages of the production line are associated with the greatest combined environmental impacts through water use, energy, waste, and pollution, while the use of hazardous chemicals in most prevalent in the wet processing stage. Legal requirements are also becoming stricter and consumer demand for transparency and traceability along the supply chain has increased.

“It is not easy to clean up the entire industry given the complexity of textile and leather supply chains,” the report said. “Tackling hazardous chemicals requires cooperation between many players along the supply chain. However, at the same time, it is worth noting that many companies see business opportunities associated with shifting to more sustainable activities.”

ZDHC said companies have an internal responsibility to accelerate progress with removing hazardous chemicals from their supply chain and production processes, and to translate the common standard set by a joint initiative with ZDHC into their own organization. It is ZDHC’s responsibility to support them in this effort by pushing for harmonization and common tools, and by assisting knowledge sharing processes.

“Sustainability departments will need to reach out to other functions within their organization in their efforts to remove hazardous chemicals from supply chains,” the report added. “They may play a crucial role in helping other functions gather information or change decision-making processes. Only when impact pathways–the way business decisions are linked to environmental impacts–such as hazardous chemicals are fully understood can companies really start to develop metrics to help monitor their progress and provide them with the right tools to act.”