A huge victory for Detox supporters came out of Europe this week as all EU member states voted to ban the toxic chemical NPE from textile imports. This decision closes a trade loophole that allowed clothing containing dangerous levels of NPE to enter the EU even though the substance is banned from regional manufacturing.

So what exactly is NPE?

Officially known as nonylphenol ethoxylates, NPEs are used in textile production as wetting agents, detergents, and emulsifiers. This toxic chemical then remains in the garment, released once you wash your clothing, breaking down to form toxic nonylphenol (NP). Nonylphenol is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain and is hazardous even at very low levels.

The wide use of NPE in the textile industry was brought to light by a Greenpeace International report, Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry [PDF]. Released in 2011, the report initially drew huge media attention, as it pointed out a loophole in the EU’s REACH chemical regulations.

And now it’s banned in the EU?

The EU already bans NPE from use within its borders however it allows garments containing NPE to be imported. This ban will need to be adopted by the European Commission, which should happen in the upcoming weeks and will take effect within five years, allowing the fashion industry ample time to remove NPE from its supply chain.

Bales of Textile in China © Jeff Lau / Greenpeace

Bales of Textile in China

How will this affect the industry?

Manufacturing countries such as China, rely heavily on their trade relationship with Europe.  For more than a decade, Europe has been China’s number one trade partner and China’s textile production needs that relationship to continue. That said, China’s textile industry needs to be more progressive in identifying and banning harmful chemicals from their products otherwise they will lose a key market.

What’s next?

Hundreds of thousands of supporters have called on high street brands such as Gap, Nike, and Diesel to clean up their supply chain. This is a huge win for a cleaner, toxic free future.

We will continue to monitor this industry’s use of NPE but we still need your help. The Detox campaign is far from won and we need your support if we are going to have all hazardous chemicals banned from use in the textile industry. Greenpeace is calling on the brands and suppliers to become champions for a toxic free future, by eliminating all releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and their products.

Yixiu Wu is the Detox My Fashion Project Leader at Greenpeace East Asia.