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Report | April 2019

SGS helps textile cos reduce harmful chemicals

Consumers are already looking for products that are sustainably sourced and better for the environment.

SGS offers assistance to textile manufacturers looking to reduce their reliance on hazardous chemicals. Through hazardous substances control workshops and other services, they provide companies with the right knowledge to achieve compliance with regulations while maintaining competitive advantage and building better reputations.

Textile production uses around 9.3 million metric tonnes of chemicals a year and the harmful effects of this are now being fully recognised. The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) has recently published “Footwear and textile clothing: consumers need better protection from the risks of skin allergies and irritation”. It notes that most irritations are caused by chemicals.

In addition, the sector is now being recognised as the “second biggest polluter in the world”, a quote attributed to high-end clothing retailer Eileen Fisher. Pollution from the clothing industry is now so bad in some places, for example the Citarum River in Indonesia and the city of Xintang in China, that the natural environment is no longer safe for humans. In both cases, rivers have become too polluted to swim in or drink.

The ANSES report included recommendations for how authorities can improve the industry. This included, among other suggestions, the recommendation that retailers should only stock clothing or footwear that their suppliers can prove do not include carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic (CMR) substances, and/or skin sensitising and irritating substances. This will require a better knowledge of chemical usage in the whole supply chain.

Part of the problem stems from rapid growth in the sector over the last few decades. It has led to long supply chains, meaning retailers aren’t always sure of the full extent of the number of economic operators in them. At the same time, stakeholders are often too willing to rely on the advice of chemical suppliers, rather than gaining the necessary technical understanding to control the flow of chemicals themselves.

The impact of remaining unaware of the full extent of chemical usage may be great. Consumers are already looking for products that are sustainably sourced and better for the environment. Knowledge of the chemical flow in the supply chain has therefore become very important; it is the key to the effective control of hazardous substances.

This knowledge also has several benefits for businesses:

  • Reduced risk of non-compliance with market regulations
  • Improved reputations from reduced pollution and better living conditions for workers
  • Better protection of consumers from skin allergies and irritations

To better understand production and improve systems, SGS is advising stakeholders to gain technical expertise in the following areas:

  • Production
  • Chemical knowledge
  • Water management

This understanding will create better, more efficient productions systems while reducing waste. In addition, stakeholders can also reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and restricted substances by directly managing chemical sourcing. This will ensure:

  • Only chemicals that do not contain restricted substances are used
  • Chemicals are used properly – avoiding waste due to improper formulations
  • Correct storage of chemicals
  • Chemicals are discarded properly

Deeper understanding of the processes involved in production will also reduce the water usage. It should be remembered; a simple tee shirt will use over thousand liters of water in its manufacture. Reducing this amount will also be good for the environment.

With the damaging effects of chemical usage in the clothing industry become apparent, customers, authorities and retailers are looking to manufacturers to improve and reduce their use of chemicals. The key to better chemical usage is knowledge of the processes and chemicals involved in the production of footwear and textiles. This will result in lower levels of waste, improved efficiencies, more cost-effective methods of production, and better profit margins.

SGS provides a range of services, including hazardous substances control workshops, to help suppliers understand the chemicals being utilised in their supply chains. As regulatory authorities begin to focus more and more on the harmful effects of hazardous chemicals on consumers and on their effect on the environment, they have the technical expertise in place to provide companies with the correct knowledge to remain compliant, maintain competitive advantage, and build better reputations.

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognised as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 95,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,400 offices and laboratories around the world.

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