Interview with the Consorzio Italiano Implementazione Detox: the management of dangerous chemicals in the fashion sector
One of the main environmental criticalities associated with the fashion industry corresponds to the high use of chemical substances and the dangers of some of them for human health and natural ecosystems.
Furthermore, compliance with the current laws in force does not favor the prevention of pollution caused by the emissions of chemical substances into the environment.
In 2011 Greenpeace activated the Detox campaign to ban the use of dangerous chemicals in the various processing and production stages of companies in the textile and fashion sector with the aim of minimizing the discharge of toxic chemicals into surface waters.
What does the Detox campaign foresee in detail and what is the current situation in the fashion sector regarding the management of dangerous chemicals?
We talked about it with Andrea Cavicchi, president of the Consorzio Italiano Implementazione Detox.
Cikis: In 2011 Greenpeace launched the Detox campaign to limit and eliminate the use of chemicals harmful to humans in the fashion industry. From this initiative, in 2016, the Consorzio Italiano Implementazione Detox was born which, with a group of companies led by Confindustria Toscana Nord, decided to collectively adhere to Greenpeace's Detox commitments. What were the reasons that prompted you to support the Greenpeace campaign?
A: Confindustria Toscana Nord has embraced the project since analyzes had been conducted to evaluate how far the companies in the Prato textile district were from the elimination of toxic substances envisaged by the Detox campaign. From the analyzes carried out it emerged that the Prato district was characterized by a high knowledge of textile production processes, an essential factor to encourage the elimination of dangerous chemical substances included in the Detox campaign. At that point several companies joined the project and from this the Consorzio Italiano Implementazione Detox was born.
Cikis: What are the main results and findings that have been achieved by the project?
A: The project started with the desire to support companies to effectively eliminate toxic chemicals from textile processes.
We started from some analyzes on the components that were introduced into the process, from dyes to technical auxiliaries and lubricants, i.e. chemical products used to weave, dye or to make a fabric soft, and we realized that in some cases companies introduce toxic substances without know.
MRSL vs PRSL: What's the difference?
Cikis: The Detox campaign includes a Manufacturing Restricted Substances List, a list of substances prohibited for use during production processes. What is the difference between MRSL and PRSL? How does the Consortium guarantee a production chain totally in line with the Detox principles and with its MRSL? In this regard, how important are knowledge and traceability of the production chain?
A: The difference between MRSL and PRSL is that the first refers to the list of prohibited chemicals emitted during production processes, while the second is a list of prohibited substances found in the product.
The Detox campaign has changed the approach to analyzing toxic substances. Before the Detox campaign, the evaluation of dangerous chemical substances was limited only to the finished garment, without considering the production processes.
From the Detox campaign we realized that attention had to be paid to all stages of production.
In particular, we analyze input water and waste water. This analysis allows us to assess whether dangerous chemicals are present in the input or output waters.
In fact, sometimes the water purification does not eliminate the toxic substances entering and for this reason they are already present in the entering waters. Therefore it is important to understand how many dangerous substances are already present in the water and how many are emitted during the production process.
Subsequently, our analysis includes evaluations on all finished products.
These analyzes are complex and, in this regard, the work of ZDHC was essential, which created a platform where it cataloged all the products, facilitating knowledge of the substances released by the various types of products.
In this way, companies already have the opportunity to know the risks and to avoid certain substances.
So one of the first discoveries was the need to evaluate all the components, including the dye powders, to declare the presence of these toxic substances within the components and to communicate the results of the analyzes to the suppliers.
Initially the results of our analyzes were not considered interesting by fashion brands but subsequently we noticed a strong reaction in the field of chemical management in the textile sector.
In fact, over the years there has been a decrease or elimination of various toxic and dangerous chemical substances in the manufacturing processes of products in the fashion industry.
The Greenpeace Detox campaign and the elimination of Perfluorinates
Cikis: One of the main challenges that Greenpeace has been pursuing since 2011 with the Detox campaign is the elimination of Perfluorinated (PFC), dangerous chemical substances characterized by a difficult biodegradability, which can remain in the environment for hundreds of years. What are, in detail, the environmental and human health damage caused by these chemicals and what solutions can companies adopt to eliminate the use of PFCs?
A: The topic of PFCs is one of the most important of the Detox campaign since they are substances that have a great impact on human health and the environment because they are not destroyed over time.
The main damages they cause to humans are tumors of the testicles, lymph nodes and kidneys.
PFCs are frequently used as they make fabrics impervious to water or oil.
However, despite these characteristics, PFCs can be replaced by other substances and above all they are not always necessary in clothing.
In this regard, a different approach should be taken regarding the use of certain products. In outdoor clothing, for example, the waterproofing capacity and resistance to low temperatures are extreme even on garments that will not actually be used in such extreme environmental contexts. In such products, the properties that PFCs guarantee to fabrics would not be necessary.
The management of chemicals in the fashion sector: what are the priorities on which to intervene?
Cikis: What are the priorities in terms of elimination and minimization of dangerous chemical substances on which the sector must focus?
A: First of all, it is essential to make companies involved in production processes aware of the correct management of dangerous chemical substances.
In addition to raising company awareness, it is necessary to make the final consumer understand the environmental and social impacts deriving from the purchase of the finished product.
What is the relationship between chemical management and circular economy?
Cikis: How are the themes of the circular economy and chemical processes related to each other?
A: As a consortium, we have worked on promoting the circular economy through an approach that allows the reuse of secondary raw materials.
We must be careful that the substances that are banned in recycled natural fibers are not the same as the substances banned for virgin fibers, in order not to excessively hinder the recycling process, which instead brings environmental benefits. To establish different limits for the various substances, however, it is necessary to define the tolerance levels according to the final use of the product.
For example, it might be sensible to authorize the recycling of a wool fiber which contains substances hazardous in contact with water, if the final recycled product will not come into contact with water, while it remains sensible to prohibit the use of those substances for virgin materials, which are therefore produced from scratch.
However, it is important to know the end use of these products and to establish that there is actually no contamination.
In this regard, there is a lot of work to be done, especially on the analysis and use of a product at the end of its life cycle.
Italian Consortium Implementation Detox and ZDHC: the details of the collaboration
Cikis: In 2020 the consortium started the collaboration with ZDHC: can you tell us what are the objectives of your collaboration?
A: ZDHC was born as a response from major international brands to the Detox campaign.
We officially started collaborating with ZDHC in 2020. The collaboration stems from the objective of defining a PRSL on the recycled product of natural secondary raw materials in order to encourage the circular economy.
Cikis: One of the main difficulties we perceive when working with companies is the difficulty of evaluating the reduction of environmental impacts that a company obtains by joining, for example, the ZDHC program. In this regard, how much data is currently available to evaluate the reduction of environmental impacts that can be achieved by adhering to a chemical management program?
A: The measurability of environmental impacts and the objectives to be achieved is a complex issue.
The first difficulty we face in the Prato district is that most of the companies carry out work on behalf of third parties. This happens because there are no verticalized companies in the district, since for these realities it would be easier to extrapolate the data necessary for the measurements.
This determines the difficulty of evaluating and measuring the actual environmental impacts of a production process.
Therefore, having a general vision of the company's impacts is certainly not easy, but it is a very ambitious goal.
To do this, the traceability of processes is essential because for those who sell a semi-finished product and do not trace the previous processes carried out, it will not be easy to trace its impacts and declare a general sustainability of the production processes.
Chemical management nel settore moda: quali sono le prospettive?
Cikis: What are the priority action areas in the coming years that companies will have to work on?
A: The main focuses on which companies should focus are: more detailed analysis of products and water in terms of the presence of dangerous chemical substances and greater attention in the design phase of finished products.
Surely the chemical substances included in the restriction lists will always be greater because there are different substances that can harm the environment and humans.
In this sense, the work of ZDHC on water is fundamental because it makes it possible to evaluate the presence of harmful chemical substances in water, even if in very low quantities.
Furthermore, it will also be essential to design the garments in such a way as to minimize the environmental impacts in the various phases of their life cycle.
Finally, it is important to communicate the sustainability practices implemented in a clear and non-misleading way.
Greenwashing generates confusion among consumers but also among companies operating in the sector and risks damaging the project for the reduction and elimination of harmful chemicals from the production processes of the fashion industry.
The correct management of the chemical substances introduced and released during the production processes can represent a key solution for reducing the environmental and human health impacts of the textile and fashion sector processes.
In this regard, the work of the Consorzio Italiano Implementazione Detox is essential to guide companies towards a more sustainable management of chemical processes.
However, to allow this, it is essential to monitor and trace the production chain to trace the upstream processes.
Finally, also in the case of chemical process management it is essential to communicate the sustainability practices implemented in a clear, truthful and non-misleading way, in order to avoid greenwashing which generates confusion among consumers and producers and which risks nullifying the results achieved in the reduction of hazardous chemicals.
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