On Friday, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Programme - a collaboration of 22 leading brands, including Kering, Marks & Spencer, Primark, Coop Switzerland and New Balance, along with 13 value chain affiliates and 7 associates - released its Wastewater Guidelines, a unified expectation on wastewater quality for the entire textile and footwear industry.
The Wastewater Guidelines build on a study conducted in 2015, which revealed that, despite efforts, there exists no unified set of expectations for suppliers that discharge industrial wastewater.
This is of concern as the production of textile and footwear involves a large quantity of water and if not treated properly, presents a threat to people and the environment. Further, a lack of consistency between brands around expectations can lead to confusion with the value chain.
The ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines addresses this issue, offering a harmonized set of wastewater parameters, limit values and test methods, which will ensure brands and suppliers are working to the same set of expectations.
Leather and raw materials are currently excluded from the scope of the Wastewater guidelines. The processing of leather requires different chemicals than the processing of other materials used in the textile and footwear industry. As a result, the ZDHC has said it will be working with the leather industry on a leather specific version of these guidelines. In terms of raw materials, the diverse processes and chemicals used for the production of raw materials varies by raw material type. Including these would have resulted in a complex and broad set of guidelines. The intent of the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines was to focus on parts of the value chain that have the most immediate need for improvement. ZDHC may consider issuing raw material specific guidance materials at a later stage.
“The release of the Wastewater Guidelines is good news for workers, consumers and the environment,” says ZDHC Executive Director Frank Michel. “Suppliers will no longer face multiple guidelines depending on which brand they’re dealing with, and brands won’t face the challenge of individually ensuring each supplier is complying with their requirements.”
The guidelines have been endorsed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), with CEO Jason Kibbey stating, “We’ve built the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines into the next version of the Higg Index and believe they will be a great step forward for improving one of the most impactful areas of apparel production.”
The ZDHC is currently in discussions with the China National Textile & Apparel Coalition, the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), as well as other brand consortia and environmental organizations to adopt it.
The guidelines were finalized following an extensive process of collaboration between ZDHC contributors, NGOs, suppliers, and a technical advisory committee. In July, the public were invited to provide input and 295 comments were received. To promote transparency, these are available for download here.
The ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines are free to download from the ZDHC website, and all actors within the value chain are encouraged to adopt them.
“Addressing this environmental challenge cannot be achieved alone,” says Michel, calling on the textile and footwear industries to take action. “To achieve meaningful, long-lasting impact, we need the entire industry, including NGOs, to adopt and support this standard.”
In the coming weeks, the Wastewater Guidelines will be released in simplified Chinese, and a pilot program will commence to implement the guidelines across several brands, countries and facility types.