The Persistent Organic Pollutants Report from ChemSec- All You Wanted to Know!
Producing Global Sized Alternatives
I recently received a copy of a report written for UNEPs Stockholm Secretariat on phasing-out Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the apparel sector. The report was sponsored by ChemSec, a non-profit organization founded in Sweden, which is currently working with businesses and regulators to reduce the production and use of hazardous and harmful substances in their products and supply chains.
If you’re familiar with some of my previous posts and you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m very passionate about using products that are truly sustainable, finding ways to reduce our global footprint, and limiting the use of harmful chemicals to lessen their impact on the environment. I wanted to share this report with you because I thought it did a nice job of discussing some of the safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals, and may be useful to those of you who manufacturer apparel, footwear, or upholstery products.
The report is a summary of interviews with some of the biggest global manufacturers of apparel, footwear, and upholstery regarding their best practices on phasing out POPs banned by the Stockholm Convention. It’s a lot to swallow, so I’m going to break this into two posts. In this first post, I will summarize and discuss the 11 companies that were included in the report; I’ll follow that up with my review and recommendations in a second post. Ready? Ok, let’s dive in!
Companies Producing Alternatives
Rudolf Group: Bionic Finish
Rudolf is a family-owned company that includes more than 20 subsidiaries worldwide. Their products are used as textile auxiliaries for pretreating, dyeing, and finishing as well as textile printing. Bionic-Finish® and RUCO-GUARD® were developed as an alternative to fluorocarbon products. They are solvent-based and water, dirt, and oil repellent. While the repellent doesn’t work as well against oily substances, it does provide good breathability on fabrics. Several other companies interviewed for the study are also using it, which to me is a testament as to the quality of the product.
OrganoClick has only been around since 2006, and they’re making great strides in their efforts to develop products that are unique and “green”. They’ve also won several awards based on their achievements in developing environmentally friendly fiber based materials. OrganoTex is a green modification technology that provides an alternative to synthetic textiles when it comes to durable water repellency on cellulose-based textiles such as cotton. It is biodegradable and entirely free from fluorocarbons and isocyanates. Since it is relatively new, OrganoTex is not being used in large-scale production by any specific companies. If it lives up to its potential though, I think we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more about it.
At IKEA, they have teams of people working on new ideas and products that reduce waste while ensuring better use of raw materials, water, and energy. Currently, they are working on finding solutions that would eliminate flame retardants completely in upholstery products. IKEA has found that by changing the way the fabric is woven and by using a thicker textile material, the fabric is less likely to ignite. Pretty clever and eco-friendly!
This leading outdoor clothing company is well known for their UpCycle® program that turns plastic bottles and other discarded materials into high-performance clothing. The study didn’t indicate specifically what types of POPs free alternatives they have developed, but according to Marmot’s website they are in the process of developing different finishing techniques that are sustainable and chemical free.
One of my favorite retailers, H&M has their own restricted substance list that suppliers are contractually bound to comply with. Last year, the company released a collection of outerwear for both adults and children with a water repellent treatment that is free from fluorocarbons. The technology features Bionic Finish Eco from Rudolf Group. ChemSec is also hoping to partner with H&M about having them further involved in the POPs Free project.
I worked for Adidas from 2002-2005, and I know from experience that Adidas is very concerned about sustainability and environmental responsibility. Their current strategy is to eliminate products that are associated with or perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) or perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which are extremely detrimental to the environment, and replace them with fluorotelimer based C 6 technology. As a member of AFIRM, they are also focusing on ways to reduce chemicals in finished products through the supply chain.
Fjällräven specializes in developing functional and environmentally responsible products. They have two main strategies in place utilizing alternatives to POPs. The first is a fabric called G 1000, which is a mix of cotton and polyester tightly woven and then infused with Greenland Wax. The wax consists of beeswax and paraffin, so the fabric is water repellant but not waterproof. Second, they treat all their polyester products with Bio Finish from the Rudolf Group. Additionally, since the company does not use toxins, I thought it was important to mention that their water resistant garments need to be re-impregnated after every other wash with a fluorocarbon-free spray such as Green Guard Spray-On from Fibertek.
Nike takes sustainability seriously and they have developed a number of techniques that have allowed them to reduce the use of energy, water, and chemicals in their products and manufacturing processes. Similar to Adidas, they have set fourth goals to eliminate PFOA or PFOS in all of their products and replace them with alternative technologies including short chain fluoro chemical water repellants such as fluorotelomer based C 6 technology.
With their wide range of textile products and solutions for both home and businesses, Almedahls has chosen to develop products that have as little impact on the environment as possible. They eliminated the use of PFOA in their products more than five years ago. Almedahls uses an alternative fabric called Trevira CS, based on organophosphorous compounds. It features polyester fibers with a phosphorous compound, so that no additional fire protection treatments or finishes are needed and it is Oekotex 100 certified. Almedahls also uses AsahiGuard, a shorter chain PFC (C 6) product, on their blinds and curtain products to repel water and oil.
FOV Fabrics AB
This vertically integrated manufacturer produces high-tech fabrics for industrial use and outdoor wear. Many of their customers require water, stain, and oil repellant fabrics. In an effort to meet these demands, they were able to develop their own mix using Rudolf’s Bionic Finish and C 6 fluorocarbons. This combo reduced the use of fluorocarbons by two-thirds. While it does not eliminate them, FOV believes they could produce a fluorocarbon free treatment if needed. They are also testing fabrics that are flame retardant without using hazardous chemicals.
Shoeller Textiles AG
Shoeller produces a fabric called NanoSphere that was designed to mimic the structure of leaves and plants. Developed in accordance with the bluesign® standard, the fabric uses fluorinated substances (C 6) and nano materials. It is free of PFOA and PFOS. Due to the nanoparticle mix, it achieves a high level of water, dirt, and oil repellency and holds up against frequent washings.
Stay tuned for my next post on this study. I will go over a couple of different certifications and how they address the content of POPs, share ChemSec’s future plans for addressing POPs in the manufacturing process, and share my recommendations and give you my take away on the study.