Ban on Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE) in EU Renewed: Is it so Easy for Textile Industry to Bid Adieu to the Omnipresent Chemical?

Published Date : Dec 28, 2015

The global market for textile chemicals manufactures and markets chemicals used in a variety of manufacturing and processing activities in the textile industry. Textile chemicals help optimize and improve the manufacturing process and endow the final product with a desirable appearance or a specific function. During the process of manufacturing, textiles undergo an extensive process of chemical and non-chemical curing. This process includes chemicals for the purposes of finishing, dyeing and printing, pretreatment, etc.

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) is one of the most widely used chemicals in the textiles industry. It is used across applications such as rinsing, cleaning, and dyeing. Despite of knowing the fact that the chemical poses unacceptable risk to the aquatic environment – accumulating in the bodies of fishes and disrupting their hormones – NPE is widely used in the textile chemicals industry.

However, in certain regions, such as the European Union, there is a ban on the use of NPE in textile manufacturing. The ban was instigated over 10 years ago and poses restrictions on the presence of NPE to imported clothing and textile products as well.

Recently, European countries have unanimously voted in the favor of extending the current restrictions on NPE as a measure to protect aquatic species. Despite of the ban on the chemical, it is still released in the environment in trace amounts through imported textiles being washed. NPE is still found in textiles entering the European Union.

A 2011 study undertaken by the Greenpeace foundation found the presence of NPE in over two-thirds of clothes tested, including clothes sold by renowned brands such as Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Adidas, and H&M. it was noted that though the concentration of NPE in the clothes tested was low, its ubiquity in the environment was harmful.

Now, the new ban is on textiles which contain NPE in concentration equal to or greater than 0.01%. In response to this, clothing and textile manufacturers have warned that complying to such strict restriction is a very difficult task as NPE’s presence is ubiquitous in the supply chain and the chemical is used across numerous application areas.

Switching to bio-based alternatives looks like the best solution to the issue at hand, but will the process of finding suitable alternatives and their inclusion in traditional manufacturing processes will be as easy as the solution sounds remains to be seen.