Textile-producing nations unite to reduce chemical waste

  • Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Viet Nam have united to reduce pollution from the textile sector
  • $43 million initiative will help companies manage worker risks and eliminate the most toxic chemicals from their production processes
  • Hazardous chemicals used in textile production pose significant risks to human health and the environment

Islamabad, October 14 2022 – The governments of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Viet Nam joined forces to tackle chemical pollution today, launching a joint $43 million program to manage and reduce hazardous chemicals in their textile industries.

Employing more than 10 million people, the textile sectors of the four countries account for nearly 15% of global clothing exports. However, the industry’s economic benefits come at a cost, with the sector being one of the world’s largest users of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of approximately 12,000 chemicals synthetic chemicals that do not break down and accumulate in the environment, threatening human and ecosystem health.

Wet processing plants, where materials are transformed into fabrics through bleaching, printing, dyeing, finishing and washing, typically use 0.58 kg of chemical inputs for every 1 kg of fabric produced. These compounds escape into the environment at all phases of the textile life cycle, from production to use, disposal and recycling.

Led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and support from the Basel and Stockholm Convention Regional Center for Southeast Asia East and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Reducing Uses and Releases of Chemicals of Concern in the Textile Sector provide technical support and tools to SMEs and manufacturers to improve their knowledge and management of hazardous chemicals, guiding them to manage risks to workers and ultimately eliminate the worst chemicals from their production processes.

“The textile sector is a heavy user of toxic ‘eternal chemicals’ that pollute local and global ecosystems,” said Eloise Touni, UNEP’s Chemicals and Waste Program Manager.

“While governments have agreed to ban the worst chemicals globally through the Stockholm Convention on POPs, value chains still use thousands of dangerous chemicals like PFAS. UNEP is proud to work with governments and pioneering companies to scale up best practices and phase out chemicals of concern across the sector.”

The five-year program will bring together the four countries to align public policies in the textile sector with international best practices, including on supply chain transparency, investment in chemicals management and eco-innovation, and occupational health and safety, creating the enabling environment needed to phase out PFAS and other chemicals of concern.

General manager of corporate sustainability and chemical management at Pakistani textile maker Interloop Limited Fauz Ul Azeem said processing plants often lack the awareness and technical expertise to manage products. chemicals in accordance with best practice.

“For any production facility, phasing out any chemical from the ongoing inventory is a painful task,” Mr Ul Azeem said. “They need to realign all ongoing processes after careful analysis of quality, regulatory and cost impacts.”

“This project will help stakeholders understand upcoming mandatory global requirements and how a proactive approach can help them avoid a business impact. This will help them learn that factoring environmental impacts into their decision-making can lead to long-term benefits.”

Pakistan’s Joint Chief Secretary of Climate Change Ministry, Syed Mujtaba Hussain, said the country is keenly aware of the need to reform the textile industry to reduce its environmental impacts and meet Pakistan’s international obligations.

“The textile wet processing step is an environmental ‘hot spot’ in terms of water pollution, ecosystem, human health and climate impacts due to high use of chemicals and energy derived from fossil fuels,” Hussain said.

“We welcome this project, which will help this important sector reduce its pollution while accessing new markets for continued growth.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

About the Global Environment Facility
The Global Environment Facility is the world’s largest funder of biodiversity protection, nature restoration, climate change response and pollution reduction in developing countries. It funds international environmental conventions and national initiatives that generate global benefits. The GEF partnership connects 184 member governments with civil society, indigenous peoples and the private sector, and works closely with other environmental donors for greater effectiveness and impact. To date, the GEF has provided more than $22 billion in grants and blended finance and leveraged an additional $120 billion in co-financing for more than 5,000 national and regional projects, as well as 27,000 community enterprises through its small grants program.

About the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
UNEP is the world’s leading voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in environmental protection by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

For more information please contact:

Eloise Touni, Program Officer, GEF Chemicals and Waste Portfolio, UNEP

Keisha Rukikaire, Information and Media Officer, UNEP