Sustainable Fashion

Everything you want to know about the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry

The Future of Chemical and Waste Management in the Textile Industry

The pollution attributable to the textile industry is widely known as a major cause for environmental concern. However, there is less awareness surrounding the environmental impacts of chemical usage within this industry, despite the fact that 10% of textile-related chemical substances may pose a threat to human health.1 These include substances such as the perchloroethylene found in dry-cleaning fluid, polyfluorenes used for stain resistance, and the pesticides used to grow plant-based resources such as cotton as well as many others.2

In order to address harmful chemical use within the textile and other industries, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) – a global, voluntary initiative meant to support nations with the sustainable management of chemicals – was formed in 2006 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development.3,4

In 2015, an intersessional process was initiated at the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) to determine a path forward targeting the responsible management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020, as the current mandate of the SAICM was set to expire in 2020.1,5 Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth meeting of the intersessional process has been delayed, but many recommendations for the post-2020 chemicals and waste framework have been proposed.1,6

Currently, a variety of regulations are in place pertaining to the general use of chemicals, including the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation in the European Union, the Toxic Substances Control Act in the United States, and the MEP Order 7 in China.1

Within the textile industry, many private standards, certification systems and labels (SCLs) have emerged for the purpose of production- and product-related chemicals management.1

Unfortunately, these current efforts have proven insufficient. It is anticipated that by 2025, the amount of waste produced by worldwide cities will be over three times the amount produced previously in 2009. Additionally, the chemical industry has become the second largest manufacturing industry in the world, with global production nearly doubling between 2000 and 2017.1

While global efforts have fallen short of the SAICM general targets for 2020, it is important that these targets are extended and adapted to include current issues such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, perfluorochemicals including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from textile microplastic shedding, highly hazardous pesticides, and nanomaterials as well as many others.1

Several issues have emerged as shared priorities among stakeholders for the development of the post-2020 chemicals and waste framework, including increased involvement of downstream chemical users, alignment with the United Nations 2030 Sustainability Agenda, and improved focus on scientific evidence to support all targets and goals.1

In their report, Chemicals and Waste Governance Beyond 2020, the Nordic Council of Ministers identified several options for the format of this new framework, ranging from the development of another legally non-binding instrument to support governments in their work to implement Agenda 2030 to the formation of a new international agreement targeting hazardous chemicals and waste by the ICCM.4 No matter the path forward, effective information management was highlighted as a key to success in order to ensure access to essential information for taking action toward the sustainable management of chemicals and waste as well as the dissemination of important health and safety information for all chemicals on the market.4

As noted by the Government of Switzerland in their document regarding The role of private standards, labels and certification mechanisms in the Post 2020 Chemicals and Waste Framework, the SAICM 2020 focused on goals related to the entirety of the chemicals industry.1  However, the post-2020 chemicals and waste framework would be enhanced by a sector-specific approach that involves both upstream and downstream stakeholders for improved reach, speed and efficacy.1 This approach could improve results in many industries, including the textile industry, which would benefit from the improved coordination of SCLs as well as stronger policy-focused targets, in order to achieve sound chemical and waste management.1


  1. Government of Switzerland. (2019). The role of private standards, labels and certification mechanisms in the Post 2020 Chemicals and Waste Framework. Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. Retrieved from: 
  2. Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. (2019). Understanding chemicals in products. Retrieved from: 
  3. Office of Environmental Quality. (n.d.). Strategic approach to international chemicals management (SAICM). U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from: 
  4. Honkonen, T. & Khan, S.A. (2017). Chemicals and waste governance beyond 2020: Exploring pathways for a coherent global regime. Nordic Council of Ministers. Retrieved from: 
  5. International Programme on Chemical Safety. (n.d.). Intersessional process. World Health Organization. Retrieved from: 
  6. Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. (n.d.). Fourth meeting of the intersessional process considering the Strategic Approach and sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 – [Postponed]. UN Environment Programme. Retrieved from: