Why is implementation of one single MRSL for the global textile and footwear value-chain essential?

Since 2011, when the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Programme was initiated by six leading brands, the Programme has been working to harmonise environmental standards across the global textile and footwear value-chain.

One of the issues we hear time and again is frustration from all levels of the value-chain at the wide range of standards – governmental, and brand initiated - and lack of coherency between them. Our role is to reduce duplicative efforts and harmonise chemical management standards to improve the environment and people's well being.

In this post, we outline why industry adoption of the ZDHC MRSL is an essential step towards this goal, and how we’re working to support industry adoption of this standard.

What is the difference between an RSL and an MRSL? 

An MRSL targets all chemicals used in the manufacturing process of a product, while an RSL targets only the chemicals that end up in the finished product. RSLs are important to ensure compliance with legislation, however under an RSL, a garment can still be produced using harmful chemicals, or washed until legal RSL limits are achieved.

An MRSL doesn’t allow for this as all chemicals used in the entire manufacturing process are required to be controlled. Put simply, an MRSL is more comprehensive than an RSL as it goes beyond just restricting substances found in the end product. 

In this blog, International Chemical Secretariat ChemSec weighs up the argument for brands to implement their own RSL vs adoption of an already established MRSL such as our own. A caption from this blog reads:


Let’s say your RSL has some special requirement for the textile mill you are working with, a certain chemical you don’t want them to use. In order to fulfill your requirement the mill needs to run the machinery empty for a while to make sure the specific chemical is gone before they proceed to produce your batch of textiles.

Possibly, the mill will also have to replace your unwanted chemical with another in order to achieve the same function. In that case, the machines would need to run empty once again, after your batch is done, otherwise the next batch of textiles will be contaminated with it. Obviously, this is going to be very costly for your company. Especially, if you represent a minor portion of that textile mills total business.

How does the ZDHC Programme assist brands to implement the ZDHC MRSL?

In 2015, the ZDHC roadmap was revised, and the Programme’s workstreams were refined into four focus and two cross-cutting areas.

Each of these areas is designed to support implementation of ZDHC best practices, including the ZDHC MRSL.



Upcoming Milestones for the ZDHC Programme

Next month, we will release the ZDHC MRSL Conformance Guidance and in August, through accredited training providers, we will launch a Training Programme to support manufacturers, mills, dyehouses and tanneries to implement ZDHC standards.

In order to build on our MRSL, in Research, we are working to find safer alternatives to priority chemicals and the number of chemicals on the Research List is expected to grow as an integral part of the ongoing MRSL review process. This year, we will release a call for alternatives to chemical Dimethylformamide (DMF). 

In September, we will release the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines, which build on outcomes learned during the Wastewater Guidelines Literature Review conducted in 2015, and revealed a wide range of discharge regulations and measurement methods. The ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines will coordinate industry efforts, reduce duplication and clarify requirements throughout the value-chain. 

The Launch of the ZDHC Chemical Registry

As part of our efforts to drive substitution of hazardous chemicals with greener alternatives already available for use, this August we will release the ZDHC Chemical Registry.

The Chemical Registry will enable brands, NGOs, and government representatives to assess a chemical’s level of compliance and assist manufacturers to select ZDHC MRSL approved chemicals by providing a “positive list” of 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,” said Jerker Ligthart Chemicals advisor for ChemSec in reference to the announcement of this platform. Read more.

Why should brands adopt the ZDHC MRSL?

Industry collaboration is essential if we are to solve the issue of hazardous chemicals. Rather than brands implementing their own Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs), widespread adoption of the ZDHC MRSL is important to reduce industry duplication and confusion.

While our MRSL is not the same as the Detox-MRSL set by Greenpeace, our MRSL goes beyond regulatory compliance and is still ambitious. When creating the ZDHC MRSL it was our intention to create a standard that was not only aspirational, but achievable for brands to adopt.

With the release of the Chemical Registry this August, and consequently a chemical “positive formulation list”, our next focus is on driving substitution of hazardous chemicals with greener alternatives already available for use.

We invite you to learn more about our work here, and keep up-to-date with our progress by subscribing to our news alerts here.