The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) group says it plans to expand and deepen its engagement in Asia as it revealed its global achievements in chemical management over the last 12 months and announced a new collaboration agreement with the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC).

The CNTAC collaboration coincides with the launch of the industry federation's Chemicals Stewardship Initiative 2020 to improve chemical management across the textile value-chain. For the ZDHC Foundation – which oversees the managament of the ZDHC programme – this collaboration is described as "a great opportunity" to expand its scope in China.

China textile sector takes steps to manage chemicals

The move comes as the ZDHC group says it expanded from 18 to 21 clothing and footwear brands in 2015, and seven associates, working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the global textile and footwear value-chain. It also appointed its first directors spread between the US and the Netherlands. 

The achievements are highlighted in its 2015 sustainability report, and include the addition of wastewater quality to its programme, the release of Chemical Management System (CMS) Guidance, and the establishment of its headquarters in Amsterdam.

"The ZDHC programme was born from an awareness that holistic systems-change is required, and that to be successful all participants within the value-chain must be involved," says executive director Frank Michel. "This year, the programme made significant strides setting the stage for future evolution and growth."


In 2014, the ZDHC programme released its first Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL), and in December 2015 expanded this to include leather. 

"The ZDHC MRSL offers brands and suppliers a harmonised approach, and list of restricted chemicals, that are not to be used in textile and footwear production," says Scott Echols, ZDHC technical director. "ZDHC brands will be communicating the ZDHC MRSL Version 1.1 standard to their supply chains. This is of particular interest to wet processing facilities such as dyehouses, laundries, and tanneries who can then request chemical formulations that comply with the ZDHC MRSL Version 1.1 standard from their chemical suppliers."

The programme says its next steps will involve finalising and publishing the MRSL conformance process, which will describe how the value-chain can assess claims of conformance with the MRSL by chemical suppliers. An annual review will also be conducted, and a transparent process will be used to update the MRSL to cover additional materials and chemical substances. ZDHC says it will also explore ways to scale adoption of the list outside of member brands.


In terms of research, a process to identify safer alternatives to substances on the ZDHC Research List was defined in 2015. The first of these – Dimethylformamide (DMF) – was also prioritised for substitution. Additionally, a chemical hazard assessment method was defined to ensure comparable results.

Going forward, ZDHC says it intends to publish the final research process this year, with all interested stakeholders invited to submit alternatives. Once the test period on Dimethylformamide (DMF) is finalised, the research team will conduct a review of the process and revise and/or create supporting tools if needed.

Once adjustments have been finished, the ZDHC Research team will initiate research actions for other substances or functional use cases on the current list, and a process defined for adding new substances. The long-term vision, ZDHC says, is that substances on list move from the research list to the MRSL in order for the ZDHC programme to phase out these substances.

Data and disclosure

In 2014, ZDHC began developing a universal set of standards to organise the way in which key chemical data should be collected and shared for the benefit of all stakeholders. Four signatory brands took part in a pilot to roll out data collection within 28 wet processing facilities and, in July last year, 22 stakeholders were invited to a forum in Germany to review the results. One of the key messages from the meeting was to improve the ease of data input for the facilities. 

During ZDHC's annual meeting in San Francisco, a live demonstration of a smartphone app, to be used as a potential method to capture delivery and inventory information within a mill, was presented.

As a result, the programme's Data and Disclosure cross-cutting area is moving towards implementation.

This year will also see the ZDHC Chemical Registry established as a backbone for MRSL conformance progress. This is intended to be the product database of all chemical suppliers and their products used in the textile and footwear value chain including their evaluated conformance level towards ZDHC's MRSL.

An initial roll-out and brand uptake of data platforms for chemical use and conformance will also take place in 2016, and wastewater discharge reporting will be a priority for the data team. 

Long term strategy

"We know our goals are ambitious. Going forward we will continue to maintain ZDHC tools and develop supporting guidance," says Michel. "We believe that tool implementation is fundamental to driving change. Therefore, we will be assisting brands and the global value-chain to meet ZDHC standards to minimise duplicative efforts, drive efficiency and keep driving towards the ambitious goal. 

"In 2016, the ZDHC Programme will focus on expanding and deepening its engagement and impact in the Asian region. The placement of an Asia director in April 2016 will create a strong ZDHC presence in that region. Further, our head of communications joined the ZDHC team in January to further accelerate our global profile and engagement activities."

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