Greenpeace's Detox Campaign by Sasha Cohen, October 23 2017, 0 Comments

“For every little vanity we have, there is a price.”
Indira Gandhi Renuncio, Greenpeace Activist, Brazil.

In July 2017, Tesco, a British supermarket, announced it was joining Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign. In doing so, Tesco joined an impressive 80 international brands and suppliers, representing 15% of worldwide textile production. Some major participating brands include Nike, H&M, Levi's and Victoria's Secret. 

Launched in 2011 from Greenpeace’s German office, this initiative focuses on eliminating toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals from textile manufacture, aiming to phase out all toxic chemicals from global supply chains and products by January 1, 2020.

By joining the Detox campaign, a company makes a public declaration to eliminate most hazardous chemicals from the supply chain of its garment brand(s) and to provide greater transparency about the chemicals that suppliers release into waterways.

Greenpeace’s Detox Catwalk is an engaging interactive site which presents progress reports on how well the companies and brands are following the tenets of the Detox campaign. Each company is classified as a Leader, a Greenwasher or a Laggard.

Tesco’s commitment coincides with the release of Greenpeace’s report, “How seriously are retailers taking responsible fashion?”, the second assessment on how vigorously retailers have implemented tools and actions to eliminate hazardous chemicals.

Detailed Steps to Detox

In order to eliminate toxic chemicals, Greenpeace calls on companies, governments and individuals to take specific steps.

Clothing Companies:

Zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals – Eliminating all releases whether via waste water pipe discharges, other production emissions (e.g. air and solid wastes) or later life "losses" from the final product—recognizing that there are no environmentally safe levels for hazardous substances.

Prevention and precaution – Preventative action towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals in the face of scientific uncertainty. The focus should be on elimination at the source through substitution with sustainable alternatives or even product redesign.

Right to know – Brands and their supply chains need to be fully transparent. They must publicly disclose information about the hazardous chemicals used and discharged when making their products.


Political commitment to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals within one generation. This should be based on the precautionary principle, avoiding the production and use of hazardous chemicals (and thereby preventing exposure).

Replace hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives.

Create a publicly available register of data on discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances, such as a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR).


Choose to buy fewer new clothing products, and instead buy second-hand clothes when possible. Older items can also be repurposed and reused (“upcycled”) to create “new” pieces for wardrobes or take part in clothes swaps with friends.

Influence brands to act responsibly on behalf of the planet and its people. Companies must make environmentally-responsible choices and protect future generations. Brands need to be challenged on whether they have set a date to eliminate the use of Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and other hazardous chemicals in their supply chains.

Demand governments to restrict the sale and import of products containing hazardous chemicals. If you are an eligible voter, research candidates so you know where they stand on these issues; they propose legislation that affects the health of you and your environment.

Toxic Clothing

The Detox Campaign focuses on eliminating Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). These chemicals are used in the dyeing process primarily to help oil and water-based substances combine in cleaning chemical formulations (surfactants) and to aid in liquid spreading and penetrating surfaces (wetting agents). Along with being contained in factory wastewater, these chemicals are released when clothing is washed and the chemicals then leach into waterways. NPEs, once commonly used in household laundry detergents, are currently used in some pesticide formulations and a wide range of consumer products, including cosmetics, cleaners, and paints.

NPEs are problematic when released into the environment because they can break down to form the toxic, hormone-disrupting Nonylphenols (NPs) as well as toxic phthalates and poly- and per-flourinated chemicals (PFCs). PFCs contaminate our bodies via food, air or water, affecting reproduction and the immune system. NPs and PFCs have been reported to make male fish take on female characteristics. NPs have been detected in human breast milk, blood, and urine, and children are more vulnerable to these chemicals.

Curbing Fast Fashion

Limiting exposure to toxic chemicals involves challenging the model of “fast fashion”; cheap, seasonal, throw-away clothing with a large polluting footprint. The Greenpeace Germany report addresses “cradle to cradle” production, a manufacturing doctrine that EcoPlum has always supported and which has led to the launch of its Sustainable Swag™ promotional products business.

“Fashion brands and retailers should take measures to slow down their production and achieve full recyclability of their products equally [as] serious [as] their chemical management," added Kirsten Brodde, Project Lead of Detox Campaign, Greenpeace Germany. "We need companies to foster a radical change in the way fashion is produced, marketed and consumed in the future, with warranties, repair services or sharing economy concepts, like leasing or lending. We believe Detox-committed brands could lead this change in the industry."      

Timeliness & Raising Awareness

The Detox campaign launched in 2011, but it doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention, particularly in the United States. Is it an idea too early for adoption? Does the campaign have too great a European focus? Is more education needed? How strong is the call for fashion without pollution?

Perhaps consumers need to understand that exposure to harmful chemicals can come from your clothing, as well as from your food and beauty supplies.

Dom Drakeford, founder of Melanin And Sustainable Style (MelaninASS), a platform featuring communities of color in sustainable fashion and beauty and promoting non-toxic style and diversity, shares her opinion that the “average person has no idea about chemical contamination in clothing.”

“Fair trade is a lot more well known than dyes,” says Ms. Drakeford. “Toxicity of fabric will resonate with the radical community, with people who are very active and proactive. It wont yet stick with the everyday community.” Those active in the movement against toxic fabric “do not yet have an active, participatory culture,” she says. Ms. Drakeford feels it’s too soon for such an effort to have general appeal.

Stephanie Benedetto, Founder of Queen of Raw, reflects that it was only “about 7 yrs ago” that she started to see sustainable fashion shows & the sustainable fabric marketplace take off.  Ms. Benedetto's company offers a progressive approach to reduce fabric waste and create a circular economy, using an open-source platform like Alibaba or Etsy for vendors and buyers.

Ms. Drakeford concurs that this is a nascent market: “Sustainability resonates with food, beauty and that awareness is just beginning with relation to clothes. (It) will take a long time for awareness of toxins in clothing to reflect in purchasing decisions. (It is) critically important to align sustainable fashion with skin care, hair care, eating healthy, looking beautiful and feeling beautiful – especially connecting the last two.”

“There are so many chemicals in our personal hygiene products, foods and environment that people have become more aware and rightly concerned about the effects of all of these chemicals. Anything with fewer chemicals has become more popular,” adds Dr. Rebecca Baxt, a New York-based dermatologist.

Some designers have already taken the lead on producing non-toxic clothing: Re-Muse (Australia), a NY-based designer who relocated to Melbourne, focuses on using natural dyes like iron oxide and brown metals, incorporating lower impact alternatives she found in Australia. Chelsea Bravo works with raw hemp and no dying because she understands the harmful effect of dying & run-off. As well, hemp uses only 20% of the water needed to grow cotton and requires no fertilizers or pesticides.

As consumers learn more, one assumes that support will grow for brands which substitute out the worst chemicals and work with suppliers and the chemical industry to develop solutions and non-hazardous alternatives. Brands that take real action on this issue can and will build trust and loyalty. Clothes that don’t leave a toxic trail are in the interest of everything that exists on our planet.

Helpful links: 

The Detox Campaign – details about the campaign.

“Detox: How Fashion is Cleaning Up Its Act” - Greenpeace film showcasing clothing brands participating in the Detox campaign.

“Textile Towns in the Shadows of Pollution” - Greenpeace documentary film about factory pollution in China and environmental activists' efforts to protect themselves, their community and future generations from toxic chemical pollution.