Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSL) are a core element of the Detox 2020 Plan

Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSL) are a core element of the Detox 2020 Plan

Environmental action group Greenpeace has expressed concerns the textile and apparel industry is not doing enough to meet its goals of going toxic-free by 2020 – and suggests part of the problem lies with "flawed" chemical lists. It has also set its sights on closing the loop as the next focus of its campaign.

The comments follow the campaign group's annual 'Detox Catwalk' assessment of progress by 19 major fashion brands and retailers who have committed to removing toxic chemicals from their supply chains in four years' time.

Nike, Victoria's Secret, Esprit lag in detox efforts

While Inditex, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and Benetton have been praised for being on track to clean up their chains, the review also criticises Victoria's Secret, Esprit and sports brands Nike and LiNing are lagging behind the field.

"16 out of the 19 brands assessed are stumbling over transparency issues or failing to eliminate toxic chemicals; with only three years left they must speed up now if they're to meet their 2020 deadlines," explains Dr Kirsten Brodde, head of the Greenpeace Detox My Fashion campaign.

She also says the firms with the lowest scores "are not banning enough hazardous chemicals and rely on the flawed chemical list from the industry group Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC). This list is missing important substances like PFCs and solvents like Dimethylformamide (DMF)."

Greenpeace launched its Detox Campaign challenge in 2011, the same year that the ZDHC programme was established to harmonise chemical management across the global textile and footwear value-chain.

The core element of its Detox 2020 Plan is a Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL), which identifies hazardous chemicals used across the supply chain and sets priorities for elimination with timelines.

Elaborating on group's comments to just-style, Dr Brodde stresses: "Our assessment is not a ZDHC bashing exercise."

Indeed, the three companies with the highest scores are all ZDHC members; as are 16 of the 19 brands assessed, six of which "score pretty well."

"It not their ZDHC membership that differentiates brands and that we are criticising," Dr Brodde says. "Whether they are ZDHC members or not, these 19 brands are committed to Detox and it's their progress on Detox implementation that we judge in the Catwalk."

Instead, she points out that the differentiating factor between the 6 ZDHC member brands who scored well and the 10 brands in the lower range is their handling of the MRSL.

"The well-scoring companies build up their own MRSL – while the other ones fully rely on the ZDHC list. Unfortunately, the ZDHC MRSL v1.1 has methodological flaws and reflects limited ambition – that's what we criticise."

She adds: "It is now acknowledged that the MRSL is the main tool for implementing the 2020 elimination goal."

The MRSL goes beyond just restricting substances found in the end product, and instead targets all chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

Reasons why the ZDHC MRSL v1.1 will not translate into "truly clean production on the ground," include the fact that "a brand cannot fully eliminate PFCs if not all PFCs are listed in a detailed way in its MRSL for suppliers – as is the case with the ZDHC MRSL v1.1."

Dr Brodde also claims the ZDHC MRSL "simply ignores major hazardous substances such as toluene, NN-DMF or formaldehyde, which are commonly used in the textile industry.

"And this MRSL is supposed to set a standard for the whole textile industry," she adds.

Another criticism is that instead of including all hazardous substances in one list, "the ZDHC puts some of them on its 'research list'. It remains unclear what the ZDHC plans to do with these substances – timelines for phase-outs or other messages to suppliers are missing."

Dr Brodde believes a "credible" Detox MRSL should list more than 400 hazardous substances for phase out by 2020. "In contrast, the ZDHC MRSL lists not even 200 substances."

Achievable goals

For its part, the ZDHC group acknowledges its MRSL is "not the same as the Detox-MRSL set by Greenpeace," but, even so, says it "goes beyond regulatory compliance and is still ambitious."

It adds it takes a different approach, aiming to be "not only aspirational, but achievable for brands to adopt." A new Chemical Registry being released next month will set out a "positive formulation list" of compliant chemicals that can be used instead of hazardous ones, and will offer an easy way for manufacturers to find the right chemistry for the right job.

ZDHC Foundation's executive director, Frank Michel, told just-style it is "disappointing that Greenpeace is picking on those that already do a lot compared to thousands that don't do anything."

Ironically, the group believes collaboration is key to solving the wider industry detox issue, and is trying to reduce the duplication and confusion of multiple chemical management standards by encouraging industry-wide adoption of its own ZDHC MRSL.

Closing and slowing the loop

As well as taking a deeper look at whether brands are on track to eliminating hazardous chemicals from their products and supply chains by 2020, Greenpeace is also for the first time extending its focus to the whole textile lifecycle.

The industry's environmental and health impacts, it says, "are amplified by the huge increase in the quantities of clothes that are sold and the rate that they are thrown away."

It adds: "In future the Detox campaign will take a closer look at this issue and whether brands' daily practices are moving towards closing and slowing their loop in order to tackle excessive use of resources."

For instance: "There is a need for alternative business models that encourage durability, lease, repair, lending or re-selling, that focus on the use and end-of-life phases of clothing."

Dr Brodde confirms to just-style: "The next focus of our campaign is consumption – and new business models for the resource-hungry fashion industry. We tried to lay it down in the catwalk as well to give a clear guidance to the industry where we are heading."

She adds that the "throw-away-mentality" of clothing consumption "is in our perspective trained by the fashion industry – they manufactured the demand that is now making it difficult to protect the planet."