Detoxifying the clothing industry: Greenpeace report shows progress

Chlorophenols, perfluorocarbons, and phthalates: some chemicals which are still being used in the manufacture of clothing can make you feel queasy. They are considered highly toxic, carcinogenic or dangerous to our reproductive health.


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Seven years ago, on July 13 2011, the environmental organisation Greenpeace launched its Detox campaign to ban eleven "super chemical pollutants" and so reduce the danger the pose to humankind, the environment and manufacturing countries such as China, Indonesia or Mexico.

The efforts have been successful, said Greenpeace International CEO Bunny McDiarmid on Thursday. “There has been a major paradigm shift in the clothing industry,” she said as she presented the Greenpeace report 'Destination Zero – Seven Years of Detoxing the Clothing Industry'.

In total, 80 companies representing 15% of global clothing production have pledged to cut the use of the eleven most hazardous chemicals to zero by 2020. On board are fashion giants such as H&M, Primark and Zara, sporting goods manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike and Puma, and retail chains such as Aldi, Lidl or Tchibo. In Germany, even 30% of the textile industry is on the detox course, reported the environmental organisation.

Almost three-quarters of the companies involved in the textile industry have since completely eliminated the dangerous per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which among other things are considered carcinogenic. The remaining companies are “making good progress towards elimination”. The reduction of other hazardous substances is also progressing. “From an ecological point of view, all this is a huge success,” said Greenpeace. The goals had been previously branded “impossible”.

Thomas Rasch, from the German fashion association Germanfashion admits that prior to the Detox campaign, the industry’s main focus was on product safety. The campaign also highlighted the situation in manufacturing countries. Today, as the Alliance for Sustainable Textiles proves, this topic is firmly rooted in the industry.

According to Kai Falk from the German Trade Association (HDE), the Detox campaign has helped change the industry. “Detox is no longer a niche topic today, and the campaign's target has entered commerce,” he says.

This is a necessary step, says trade expert Martin Fassnacht from the WHU business school. “Consumers today expect more environmental commitment from businesses,” he explains. But it is bad news for retailers and manufacturers, that the majority of consumers are still not willing to pay more for it.

The success that has been achieved so far is not enough for Greenpeace, as the organisation is worried that the progress will be undermined by the ever-increasing fast pace of the fashion world.

The excessive consumption of textiles is another problem that needs to be addressed. If not, garment consumption will increase dramatically over the next few years from 62 million tonnes in 2017 to 102 million tonnes in 2030, Greenpeace fears. The fashion industry is being called to collaborate and drive radical change by producing better, more durable and more versatile clothing instead of short-lived collections. “It’s now time for a new impossible,” Bunny McDiarmid said.

Translated by Barbara Santamaria

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