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What does ZDHC’s Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) mean for leather makers?

While there have been efforts since the 1990s to address the discharge of hazardous chemicals from the global textile and footwear supply chain, until now, these have been fragmented.

Part of the issue is that the supply chain is large, complex and interlinked; no one brand, supplier or factory can change it alone.

The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme was formed in 2011 with recognition that holistic system change was needed. The group has now grown to 21 brands working together with the supply chain to ensure the safer use of chemicals.

The Programme’s approach is detailed in its roadmap which outlines the following key areas as critical to its success: Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) & Conformity Guidance, Research, Wastewater Quality, Audit Protocol, Data and Disclosure, and Training.

The ZDHC MRSL & Conformity Guidance

In 2015, the MRSL was updated to include leather, and this was launched during the BLC "Leather & Sustainability in Retail" Conference held in London, December 2015.

“The intent of the MRSL is to provide brands and suppliers with one harmonised approach to managing chemicals during the processing of raw materials,” says Technical Director Scott Echols.

The MRSL achieves this by providing a clear list of priority chemicals and specifies the maximum concentration limit of each substance within commercial chemical formulations. It is a living document and will be updated as needed to expand the materials and processes covered, and to add substances that should be phased out of the supply chain.

In contrast, existing Restricted Substances Lists (RSL) set limits for materials and finished products to ensure that products are safe for consumer use, legally compliant and safe for the environment upon disposal at end of life.

The ZDHC MRSL is intended to assist the apparel and footwear supply chain in phasing out the use of restricted substances by establishing limits for hazardous substances in chemical formulations used to process materials.

What does the ZDHC MRSL mean for the Leather Industry? 

The value of one standardised MRSL is that it provides a clear way for a tannery to communicate chemical restrictions with their chemical supplier.

One standard, used by all, reduces confusion and helps ensure consistent implementation across the supply chain.

In contrast to an RSL, which sets product and material limits, the ZDHC MRSL clearly defines the standard that a chemical formulation must meet, making it much easier for the chemical industry to manage.

As Echols explains, “this is a great tool for helping to improve compliance and support a brands’ goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.”

What can ZDHC’s MRSL do for the Leather Industry?

Like all raw material manufacturers, moving to a system of ‘input management’ is a different way of managing chemical restrictions. This will take time to implement, so continued support and commitment from the industry is needed as we move forwards with this new approach.

The ZDHC Programme encourage tanneries to download a copy of the MRSL and use this as a tool for procuring chemical formulations. Conformity guidance will be finalised shortly, and in the meantime the interim guidance is available here.

The value of the MRSL is driven by industry-wide adoption and we are hopeful that tanneries will see the value in using this; it is a milestone standard for our industry.

Manufactured Restricted Substances List (MRSL) Version 1.1