Founded in 2011 from the initiative of a small group of footwear and fashion brands, ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) has rapidly grown and today it reaches the contributors number of about 165 including fashion groups, manufacturing companies, chemicals manufacturers, business associations, laboratories and certification bodies. All committed to the “Roadmap to Zero Programme”, a common roadmap focused on the regulation of hazardous substances banned from the intentional use in the textile, apparel, leather and footwear industries.
Already very active in the textile sector, while suppliers are under pressure by the fashion brands environmental requirements, ZDHC sees the growing attention also of the chemical-tanning industry, as proved by the contributors subscription of the more important leather associations, like the Italian UNIC (tanneries association) and UNPAC (chemical producers association).

Alessandra Tortora

The new MRSL 2.0
To support companies in the elimination of dangerous chemicals, ZDHC has created the well-known MRSL (Manufacturing Restricted Substances List), a list of chemical substances banned or limited in the use. In November 2019 has been published an updated version, the MRSL 2.0, containing new outlines.
To understand the extent of the changes, we turned to Alessandra Tortora, ZDHC’s director for Southern Europe (i.e. Italy, France, Spain and Portugal), graduated in chemistry and a great expert in the chemical-tanning sector. “The first news of the version 2.0 – explains Alessandra Tortora – concerns the inclusion of new substrates used in the production of finished articles such as rubber, foams and adhesives that were not previously included.
For the leather, new product categories have been included such as biocides, salts of some aromatic amines and medium-chain chlorinated paraffins, in addition to the short-chain already present”.
There are news concerning some limits. “The good news is that some limits have been diversified for the tanning sector compared to those for the textile sector”. The approach is as always inspired by a pragmatic principle: “Limits have been diversified to allow the use of the substance when there is no possibility of replacing it, which is actually the founding criterion of the ZDHC MRSL list. The list in fact bans the intentional use of substances, but only if there are economically sustainable alternatives on the market”.
The revision of the list was validated by the MAC, an independent Advisory Council made up of 6 groups of people (in rotation) which include universities, governments, non-governmental associations, service providers, manufacturers and chemical companies with 2 or 3 representatives each.
Together with the MRSL 2.0 – Alessandra Tortora keeps on explaining – the Candidate List was published, a list of substances deputed to for the restriction, that was previously unavailable (not to be confused with that one of Reach, which has a different function). This has been done “to support the chemical companies that can prepare themselves in case some of some substances currently used in their products will be banned in the near future”.

Analysis methods
A hot theme for the restricted substance’s analysis in the chemical products is the lack of official and shared analysis methods. At the moment laboratories all over the world follow methods accepted by ZDHC on the basis of the ISO 17025 standard, but often these methods are not yet accredited for the substrate to be tested. “Methods of analysis of chemical-tanning products have largely been shifted from the leather or textile substrate to the chemical products. This normally happens with some problems regarding the extraction methods or the preparation of the samples – explains Alessandra Tortora – The shortage of official tests is certainly a big problem that involves everyone and that of course affects all the existing protocols in the world concerning control of dangerous substances in chemicals and products. “The principle adopted by ZDHC is to use performance-based testing methodologies. In other words, there may be differences in analytical methods to some extent, however the methods adopted must meet the same quality requirements to allow comparability and at the same time to ensure progress in analytical techniques.”
Several standardization tables are at work and various researches are underway, but of course these scientific protocols takes time”.

2020, the year of transition
One of ZDHC’s most used platform is the Gateway, a database of registered chemical products containing the relative level of conformance to the MRSL . Also here there is some news. “The levels of Compliance fall down from 4 to 3 (from a minimum rate of 1 to a maximum level 3) depending on the test and certification levels accredited by ZDHC recognized laboratories and certification bodies. Basically, products on the Gateway platform that have not been verified according to the ZDHC protocol are no longer accepted”. To allow brands to update their specifications on the basis of the new MRSL and grant enough time to suppliers to get used, “a year of transition (2020) is guaranteed during which both versions (V 1.1 and V 2.0) remain valid”.

Wastewater and emissions
For a couple of years, a ZDHC task team has been working on the development of guidelines for wastewater from tanneries, a complex job that has undergone some interruptions but which should be completed by the end or the beginning of the next year. A first Italian pilot project coordinated by UNIC – which analyzed the wastewater discharged from various tanneries in centralized treatment plants and related to the production of various types of leather – showed encouraging results with a concentration of the banned substances at trace level or in some cases only slightly above the limits. “The goal now is to define what are the acceptable concentration limits for the tanning industry, different, for the peculiarity of the sector, from those acceptable for textiles”.
By the end of 2020, the guidelines for air emissions will certainly be published. “A theme on which the Italian and European tanning sector in general is already far ahead compared to other competitors”, concludes Alessandra Tortora.


ZDHC approach

The programme for a sustainable chemical management developed by ZDHC is divided into two main approaches: banning or replacing dangerous chemicals in input products and in their manufacture and implementing common tools for controlling emissions into the environment. Another important aspect of the Programme is the capacity building: ZDHC indeed provides training and educational support to companies in their effort to achieve sustainable chemistry. In addition, it participates and advocates conferences and initiatives on environmental sustainability and on a corporate culture based on sustainable processes and products.

A book for everyone

The ZDHC Foundation has just published the book “Detoxing the fashion industry for dummies”, a manual that aims to explain in a simple and clear way the need to implement a more responsible chemistry in the fashion industry. Intended for brands, manufacturers, students and consumers, the volume is available for free online.