Dirty Laundry Reloaded into your washing-machine

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Feature Story - 2012-03-21
Global fashion brands are turning us into unwitting polluters. This is what we discovered in our latest research conducted on clothing and sportswear produced by big companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren and G-Star.

How big brands are making consumers unwitting accomplices in the toxic water cycle

We tested products that we knew contained residues of toxic substances by washing them under conditions that simulated domestic laundering. Then we measured how much of the chemicals remained in the clothing. In this way we could identify the percentage of "washed out" chemicals which end up being flushed into our rivers, lakes and seas, where they break down to form even more hazardous substances.

What are these substances?
These chemicals have some nasty properties. For example, NPEs breaks down into nonylphenols, chemicals which are persistent, bio-accumulative and hormone-disrupting. This means that they do not break down easily into the environment, build up in the food chain, and can seriously mess with some organisms' hormone systems. 

Clothing and the Global Toxic Water Cycle


Investigative work: Dirty Laundry part one, two and three.

Last year we published our investigation revealing how the suppliers of major clothing brands were discharging hazardous chemicals in their waste water directly into Chinese rivers.

We challenged the brands found to be in business with these suppliers to take responsibility for this pollution, and to use their considerable influence to work with their suppliers to eliminate these toxic discharges throughout their supply chain and products.

Some brands accepted the challenge and have begun working on a detailed plan to reach the goal by 2020. Others insisted that these chemicals were not used in their manufacturing their products.

We tested the products of a number of the brands linked to these suppliers and found residues of hazardous chemicals in their clothing proving that these hazardous substances had been used in the manufacturing of their products. The results of this investigation were published in the report 'Dirty Laundry - Hung out to dry'.

The residues we found might seem small in quantity if considered compared to the single piece of clothing. But there is no safe amount of toxic chemicals, and given the huge volume of garments produced by these global brands, the total quantities of these chemicals entering our water is far from insignificant.

Our latest investigation tested clothing we had found containing these hazardous substances to find out what happens during normal washing conditions.

The results implicate anyone who buys these brands and washes their clothes.
 NPE Maps


The textile industry is creating water pollution all around the globe, including those regions and countries where there are restrictions or bans on the use of these chemicals.

Zero discharge of hazardous chemicals within a generation
The entire textile sector needs to move to toxic-free processes. To reach this goal we need more brands joining the detox challenge.

For the companies which have already committed to the elimination of the use of these substances, the next step is for them to respond to the urgency of the situation by setting strict and ambitious elimination deadlines for the most hazardous chemicals used by this sector, including nonylphenol ethoxylates.

We know these chemicals are dangerous, and viable alternatives exist so these big brand names need to turn their words into actions.

What you can do
Many of you already joined together to put pressure on these brands to "Detox", and thanks to your efforts, Puma, Nike, Adidas, H&M, Li-Ning and C&A have all committed to eliminate the use of all hazardous chemicals from their supply chain and products by 2020 .

This is just the beginning.

You can take action today by:

- Sharing this story with your friends and family to help raise awareness of the issue
- Sharing the latest campaign video which shows the role of #PeoplePower in shaking up the fashion sector
Submitting your photo to help star in the next #PeoplePowered campaign video while pushing your favorite brand to be the next to Detox.

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