According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), South Asian (SA) countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam have collaborated to help reduce chemical pollution from the textile sector.

The governments of these countries will launch a US$43m initiative to align public policy on the textile sector with international best practice, including on supply chain transparency, investment for chemical management and eco-innovation, and occupational health and safety, creating the enabling environment needed to phase out PFAS and other chemicals of concern.

The locus of this issue is wet processing factories, where materials are turned into fabrics through bleaching, printing, dyeing, finishing and laundering, which typically use 0.58 kg of chemical inputs for every 1 kg of fabric produced. These compounds leak into the environment at all phases of the textile lifecycle, from production to use, disposal and recycling.

Eloise Touni, chemical and waste programme officer at UNEP, said: “The textile sector is a major user of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ which pollute local and global ecosystems. While governments have agreed global bans of the worst chemicals through the Stockholm Convention on POPs, value chains still use thousands of hazardous chemicals like PFAS. UNEP is proud to work with governments and front-runner companies to scale up best practices and phase out chemicals of concern across the whole sector.”

UNEP stated that the sector employed over 15 million people, while the four nations’ textile sector accounted for nearly 15% of global clothing exports. Hazardous chemicals used in textile production pose significant risks to human health and the environment.

It added: “The economic benefits of the industry come at a cost, with the sector being one of the world’s major users of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of approximately 12,000 synthetic chemicals which do not break down and accumulate in the environment, threatening human and ecosystem health.”

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This programme is led by UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with the financial backing of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the support of the Basel & Stockholm Convention Regional Centre South-East Asia and the Natural Resources Defence Council.