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Safer Chemistry Starts at Source

November 13, 2019

The issue of hazardous chemicals isn’t new in consumer products. The Romans knew lead was harmful over 2000 years ago.

Safer Chemistry Starts at Source

11/01/2016 Scott Echols

In this blog, ZDHC's Technical Director Scott Echols reflects on chemical management within the textile and footwear value chain today, and what the launch of our newest tool, the ZDHC Chemical Gateway, means for the industry going forward.

The issue of hazardous chemicals isn’t new in consumer products. The Romans knew lead was harmful over 2000 years ago.

Scheele’s Green, a copper-arsenic based pigment, was one of the first colourfast greens used for textiles in the early 1860s. However, as the picture below demonstrates, it didn't take long for the toxic effects of this pigment to become known.

Something has to be going wrong if hundreds of years ago we knew arsenic and lead were hazardous, and today, we still have to communicate this to the value chain.

Left: penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/wine/leadpoisoning.html Right: Wellcome Library, London, Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman. Etching, 1862. CC BY 4.0

Today, both lead and arsenic are listed chemical on ZDHC’s Manufacturing Restricted Substances List, a list of chemical substances banned from intentional use in facilities that process textile materials and trim parts in apparel and footwear.

Our focus at ZDHC is to ease regulatory confusion of chemical management standards and bring different actors together - brands, chemical companies, mills and manufacturers - to align on common standards and tools.

However, we know we have to go beyond simply telling people what they can’t use (restricting chemicals); and that's where our newest tool - The ZDHC Chemical Gateway - comes in.

How does it work?

While the creation of the ZDHC MRSL was hailed as an industry milestone, one of the challenges suppliers still face in working to conform to this standard is knowing where to go, and who to trust, when it comes to safer chemistry claims.

The ZDHC Chemical Gateway is designed to indicate conformance to the ZDHC MRSL to address this gap.

To explain this in different terms, imagine, for example, I asked a chef to use only organic (pesticide-free) ingredients and then sent him a list of all the pesticides he couldn’t use.

This wouldn’t be of much use. However, what if I told him to go to the organic food section of the store and to choose produce from there? Well, perhaps he then wouldn’t trust the hand written sign, so he might look for existing certifications which could indicate a level of trust that these products are truly organic.

That's exactly how the ZDHC Chemical Gateway works. It builds on the ZDHC MRSL by providing a “positive list” of safer chemical formulations. Conformance is determined by third-party product accreditation standards and options available in the market.

Safer Chemistry Starts at Source

Next week, at the 4th ZDHC - CNTAC Conference on Hazardous Chemical Control & Sustainable Manufacturing held on November 8 in Shanghai, we will showcase this tool and invite up to thirty suppliers to volunteer to further refine and test the platform.

We believe safer chemistry starts at source and over the past few years, we've been working hard to align key brands and value chain affiliates on common standards and tools.

While the creation of the ZDHC MRSL has been a milestone, with the ZDHC Chemical Gateway, we're ready to take this further. The Chemical Gateway will be available to the public in early 2017.

Explore more here.