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Implementing Safer Chemistry Practices

The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme, supported by 22 leading brands, has one clear goal: the elimination of hazardous chemicals from the global textile and footwear value-chain.

This is no easy task, and to be successful, the Programme has adopted a pragmatic and collaborative approach. This post reflects on the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) - a single, global standard for restricting hazardous chemicals in the value-chain - and the next steps the Programme is taking to achieve its ambitious goal.

A Holistic Approach

The ZDHC Programme is focussed on harmonising standards and supporting uptake of tools across six areas: Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and Conformity Guidance, Research, Audit Protocol, Wastewater Quality, Training, and Data and Disclosure. These were refined in the Programme’s Updated Joint Roadmap, and identified as key to affecting industry-wide change.

The ZDHC MRSL

To prevent the use of hazardous chemicals, most brands follow a Restricted Substances List (RSL) or Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL). Prior to the release of the ZDHC MRSL, ZDHC brands adhered to a range of RSLs or MRSLs, and while well-intended, this resulted in duplication of work, and confusion across all tiers of the value-chain. Read more on why implementation of a single MRSL is essential.

The release of the ZDHC MRSL, updated in 2015 to include leather, represents a milestone for the industry and beyond gaining support from ZDHC brands, it is used by EcoPassport by Oeko-Tex®, ToxServices’ Full Materials Disclosure Tool (FMD™), and industry trade organisations such as the Chinese National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC).

Earlier this month, the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (Textilbündnis) became the latest organisation to adopt the ZDHC MRSL. Dr. Felmberg, Head of the Textilbündnis’ Steering Committee and a representative for Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said:

“As the list is well-known internationally and not restricted to the European region, it embraces the possibility to achieve international and comprehensive changes in production.”

The ZDHC MRSL - Key Facts

1.    The ZDHC MRSL restricts the use of hazardous chemicals used in the entire manufacturing process, and lists chemicals for which there are already safer alternatives for use.

2.    When creating the ZDHC MRSL, it was the Programme’s intention to create a standard that was not only aspirational, but achievable for brands to adopt.

3.    The ZDHC MRSL goes beyond global regulatory requirements.

From Research to Restriction

Some chemicals such as toluene, dimethylformamide (N,N-DMF), as well as short-chain PFCs, currently are not listed on the ZDHC MRSL. While we see some alternatives for these chemicals already in the market, more work is needed to improve the performance and scalability of those alternatives. Therefore, they have not been included in initial versions of the ZDHC MRSL. 

However, to find safer alternatives, the Programme conducts and encourages research into these chemicals with the goal of transitioning these from the Research List to the ZDHC MRSL as soon as possible. This Autumn, the Programme will release its first call for alternatives for the chemical DMF.

Firm Focus on Implementation

While the release of the ZDHC MRSL has been a milestone for creating a global industry standard, “a restricted list of chemicals is difficult to implement,” says Executive Director of the ZDHC Foundation, Frank Michel.

To address this, in Autumn, the ZDHC Programme will release the ZDHC Chemical Registry which will help mills and wet processing units (where most of the chemicals are used in the value-chain), as well as other interested parties, find safer chemicals for substitution.

The goal of the ZDHC Chemical Registry is drive conformance towards the ZDHC MRSL and in doing so, encourage industry uptake of greener chemistry by listing chemicals already available for substitution.

“An easy way to find the right chemistry for the right job has been long awaited in the supply chain,” says Jerker Ligthart Chemicals advisor for ChemSec.


Building on the development of ZDHC tools and standards, the Programme is working towards major milestones in 2016 to deliver on its ambitious targets.

Last week, the Programme released its Draft Wastewater Guidelines - a single, unified discharge standard for the entire textile and footwear value-chain - and is inviting a process of public consultation until August 14.

To learn more about the ZDHC Programme download the ZDHC Annual Report here.To stay posted for news alerts, subscribe here.