Textile industry has been condemned as one of the biggest industrial polluters of freshwater worldwide. Dyeing and printing, which involves use of inks to make our clothes colourful, usually end up in water bodies, sadly making the water colourful. This coloured water is a quarry of toxic and hazardous chemicals that lead to hormonal imbalances, cancer symptoms and skin infections. Global brands, however, have knowingly been a partner in destroying the Mother Nature. In 2011, Greenpeace launched the ‘Detox My Fashion’ campaign to reveal the problem. Its report titled ‘Destination Zero: Seven years of Detoxing the clothing industry’ showed how the campaign persuaded brands and companies to look upon this unacknowledged problem and step up to the Detox challenge by committing to zero discharges of hazardous chemicals by 2020.
The campaign ‘Detox My Fashion’ decided to look upon the origin of toxicity in the fashion supply chain, right from dyeing factories releasing waste into water bodies to factories making the clothes, to the international clothing brands using these factories to make their products.
Right from the start, the adversity of the situation could be anlaysed from the range of hazardous chemicals including alkylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that were being discharged into water. These chemicals are being banned in Europe because of its inability to be treated by the modern ETP plants. Tracing down further, the link chained to the global sportswear brands that were using these facilities for the manufacturing of their products. Greenpeace, then urged the sportswear brands to take responsibility of their actions and Puma became the first brand to sign up to a ‘Detox commitment’ to eliminate the discharge of ALL hazardous chemicals by 2020. The list then further got longer with the addition of bigwig brands such as Nike and Adidas. Among fashion fraternity, H&M and Levi’s became the frontrunners in taking the detox commitment.
The campaign then went on to check the verification of this malpractice worldwide. In a shocking revelation, it was found that two thirds of the clothing or footwear articles tested had traces of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) in them. It was unethical in the context as the use of APEs in manufacturing was already outlawed in the EU. Another problem that was found out was the regular washing of these items at homes. The used water after washing is being released into rivers from the public wastewater treatment plants that cannot deal with the harmful chemicals. Thus, there was no way the water pollution could be controlled and this was a serious loophole in the EU’s REACH regulation. The campaign also urged political associations to drive policy changes such as China’s enforcement of stricter wastewater standards, the EU ban on the import of textiles containing the hazardous chemicals nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) that should enter into force in 2020, and a proposed EU regulation on cancer causing substances in textiles.
Sadly, the similar pattern was observed in textile dyeing factories located in Indonesia which were making products for GAP. However, GAP refused to take responsibility. With the increase of scope of fashion, luxury, suppliers, retailers, and outdoor wear, not even a slight change was witnessed in the environment damaging practices. Sadly, luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Dior did not feel sorry for their actions and undertook no commitments to not damage the environment any further. But the small ray of hope among these was Canepa, a major Italian supplier to the luxury industry, that pledged to take care of the environment and was soon acknowledged by 34 companies in the Prato and other textile districts in Italy.
However, the Greenpeace reports also lists down the challenges that it faced during its seven years’ journey.
- Harmonisation (MRSL, limits, framework, priorities, etc.): Lack of harmonization of tools, methods, targets and priorities, variety of Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSLs) across brands, in terms of scope and reporting limits create a hindrance for detox committed companies.
- Supply chain management – capacity building: Brands admit that they still need to increase their knowledge of the different tiers of their supply chain, to get further involvement.
- Alternatives: Knowledge gaps and lack of information about safer alternatives sometimes encourage companies to go after easily available, harmful chemicals. The higher cost, lower performance or lack of availability in all markets and sourcing regions also account for lower adoptability of safe alternatives.
- Transparency/traceability of chemical supply: The majority of brands point out the lack of transparency from chemical suppliers, especially but not exclusively from small local players.
Next steps of Fashion Detox journey
With major objectives achieved, Greenpeace now aims to take their campaign to the root-cause of the problem, which is the overconsumption of textiles, larger problem that must be tackled.
- Overproduction and acceleration: The fast fashion trend has led the invent of model of use-and-throw of garments, leading to more production of clothes than needed. Consumption of clothing is projected to rise further, from 62 million tons in 2017 to 102 million tons in 2030, an increase of 63 per cent.
- Polyester – the Achilles heel of fast fashion: The growth of fast fashion has been facilitated by an increase in use of polyester, which now makes up 60 per cent of clothing worldwide but is projected to nearly double by 2030. This ‘menace’ raw material is responsible for up to 1 million microplastic fibres in a single wash of clothing.
- Putting on the brakes: It is high time that companies stop the blame game and take responsibility for a radical transformation of the fashion industry. Promoting slow fashion, making better quality, more durable and more versatile clothes should be the future of fashion coupled with strong waste prevention solutions implementation.