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January 13, 2020

New policy seeks to address hazardous textile chemicals

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) has published a policy brief that addresses chemicals of concern in several product sectors including textiles, in an effort to minimise their adverse effects on human health and the environment. 

By Hannah Abdulla

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) has published a policy brief that addresses chemicals of concern in several product sectors including textiles, in an effort to minimise their adverse effects on human health and the environment. 

The SAICM’s policy brief titled Understanding Chemicals in Products, is a contribution from the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project on Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern under SAICM.

It notes that transparency of information about chemicals in global supply chains has been an emerging policy issue since 2009, leading to, for example, the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Chemicals in Products (CiP) programme, which focuses on the textiles, toys, electronics and building materials sectors.

In 2015, SAICM welcomed CiP and proposed cooperative actions to address information gaps, focusing on the four sectors as documentation of hazardous chemicals often does not exist or is not available outside supply chains. According to SAICM, information exchange helps identify and address chemicals of concern in products, particularly for manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

Potential sources of hazardous chemicals in textiles production include stain resistance coatings and pesticides from cotton production. Some of the chemicals may persist in the environment, build up in the body, and affect immune and reproductive systems. Examples of chemicals include polyfluorenes for stain resistance; pesticides from cotton; Perchloroethylene (“perc”) in drycleaning fluid; and plastic microfibres shed during the washing process.

The policy brief also discusses measures to reduce chemicals of concern through:

  • Legislation and information system tools such as regulations, standards and certification mechanisms, and ensuring brands control suppliers to enable compliance;
  • Holistic tools that consider the entire value chain such as life cycle assessment tools and eco-innovation;
  • Production tools that seek to minimise exposure and focus on cleaner and responsible production and chemical leasing; and
  • Consumption tools that focus on consumer behaviour, including sustainable public procurement and ecolabels. 

The report can be found here.

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