What are PFCs?
PFCs (per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals) are all completely man-made chemicals which do not occur naturally. They are commonly used in DWR (durable water repellent) coatings and waterproof membranes. These fluorochemicals have been used for some time to give clothing water and stain resistant properties. Until fairly recently there were very few alternatives so as it became obvious that PFCs were harmful to the environment more focus fell upon the use of PFCs, especially within the Outdoor Activities sector.
There are many sources of PFCs within the clothing sector but over half of the most hazardous PFC chemicals are used for weatherproof clothing. The fact that we are in the outdoors and understand the environment more than most should be a good reason for all outdoor enthusiasts to take note and act on this information as much as possible. With the wave of sustainability and environmentally friendly issues gaining more popular support and coverage it is an ideal time for companies to throw their full weight behind developments in this area.
The awareness surrounding the effects of PFC's has grown as more research has been carried out. Once released into the environment PFCs break down very slowly; they can remain in the environment for many years after their release and are dispersed over the entire globe. They can affect both the wearer of the garment and the environment when it washes or rubs off jackets. It has accumulated in measurable levels in snow, ice and water around the world. For some PFCs there is evidence that they cause harm to reproduction, promote the growth of tumors and affect the hormone system.
For more information on the wide reaching impacts of PFCs Greenpeace carried out some extended research and the publication 'Footprints in the Snow' details this truly global issue. From research like this pressure is starting to mount on outdoor brands particularly to lead the way in eliminating the use of PFCs but the problem of finding a high performance, waterproof alternative has been a stumbling block.
What is being done about the PFC problem?
After many of the negative effects were identified and started to be researched and understood many brands starting taking steps to eliminate some or all PFCs from apparel. As stated this is a difficult process since many outdoor brands need their top waterproof clothing to perform in the most extreme conditions as peoples live can literally depend on it. It is a difficult balancing act replicating PFC performance with sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives. Other areas of outdoor clothing, ethics and the environments have been well documented (such as ethical down, organic cotton, recycled materials, etc), brands have highlighted the issue and dealt with it effectively in many cases but PFCs remain an issue. Some brands have been accused of 'Greenwashing', meaning they are trying to put a positive spin on still using PFC based chemicals which obviously needs to change.
Most companies in a competitive market place will aim to develop their own ideas and technologies to stand out which is fine but also means that few are pulling in the same direction. One way in which there has been a colaborative effort is in the bluesign system which, in recent years many brands have signed up to. It aims at creating sustainable textile production which focuses on five key principles around environmental protection and human health. This system covers the brands, the textile manufacturers and the chemical suppliers. This level of coverage ensures that items, factories, production methods and individual components can be accounted for.
We have provided some examples from some of the brands we stock as to what they are doing about PFC use.
Haglofs have always been and environmentally friendly company and were one of the first bluesign accredited brands. In terms of PFCs they state: We have gradually since 2007 changed the content of the majority of our DWR treatments to be completely fluorocarbon free in most of our clothing, including all our own waterproof/windproof/breathable PROOF™-shell layers, all FlexAble softshells & all Climatic styles as well as all insulation pieces. Some products, where high performance may be the difference between success and fatal error, however still use a C6-DWR technology (with lower environmental impact) to meet the high performance demand of our customers. The levels of C6 PFCs found in our shell garments are far below legal limits. We are also involved in several research projects to find a highly functional alternative to PFC, where we are making great progress (read more at http://www.supfes.eu/) We have the firm ambition that in 2020 we have phased out all use of fluorocarbon based DWR and we are taking big steps each season to reach that goal.
As part of its commitment to continuously improve the environmental footprint of its consumer fabrics products while maintaining a high level of durability and performance, Gore Fabrics has set the goal of eliminating PFCs of Environmental Concern from the life cycle of its consumer fabrics products.
- By the end of 2020, Gore Fabrics will eliminate PFCs of Environmental Concern from its consumer laminate shipments corresponding to approximately 85% of product units in the market. This includes jackets, shoes, gloves and accessories.
- Between 2021 and 2023 Gore Fabrics will remove PFCs of Environmental Concern from the remaining consumer fabrics laminate shipments while continuing to deliver products which meet the performance specifications relevant for the end use.
Patagonia has long relied on a DWR with perfluorinated compound (PFC) but we have been searching diligently for an alternative because of its harmful environmental impacts.For the past decade, we have evaluated commercial chemistries and chemistries in development and engaged partners that meet our best-in-class performance needs, are transparent in their business practices, willing to improve the status quo of specialty chemistry sourcing and provide traceable supply chains when necessary. And for the Fall 2019 season, we are pleased to introduce our first products that use PFC-free chemistries. These products have been lab- and field-tested to meet our rigorous performance standards, with many more to follow.
For more on Patagonia’s journey towards PFC Free, sustainable DWR you can read their blog on 'Our DWR Problem'
At German outdoor brand Vaude sustainability is the "common green thread" that runs through the company. Product developers here are constantly tackling the question of how to make functional clothing, shoes and backpacks environmentally sustainable. Vaude is determined to completely eliminate the use of ecologically harmful fluorocarbons (PFC) from all of its products. On July 13, Vaude announced its Greenpeace Detox Commitment in which the company voluntarily agrees to eliminate all hazardous chemicals in its supply chain by 2020. With the upcoming Spring/Summer 2018 Collection, the outdoor outfitter has taken another major step toward achieving this goal: All textile materials in the apparel collection are now fully PFC-free.
You can read more details on Vaude's Detox Commitment here.
Ensuring that our products are waterproof to the exacting performance standards our users expect is very important to Berghaus. The DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatments we use include the use of PFCs (Per-fluorinated compounds) due to their superior water and oil repellency. Our aim is to move all of our DWR treatments in our apparel to PFC-free by 2020 starting with the PFC-free hydrophobic down now in our range. For more info on Berghaus' sustainability look here.
For nearly 10 years, Grangers have championed our PFC-free aftercare solutions and were the first aftercare company to earn bluesign system approval for the vast majority of their products. The bluesign system checks the environmentally-aware credentials of an entire production chain, resulting in a product completely free from harmful substances and processes.
Marmot have developed a new 'permanent DWR' free from PFCs. GTI Aquavent is bonded to the DWR treatment with its yarn at the molecular level. This makes water bead on the surface, and Marmot claims won’t wash off to contaminate streams or lakes. All EvoDry garments from Marmot are made from upcycled yarn. Compared to new yarns, EvoDry uses less petroleum and energy. Lastly, EvoDry fabrics, laminations, and trims are free of PFCs.
Nikwax Waterproofing has until now been best known as a world leader for its waterproofing aftercare products. However, Nikwax is now entering the international world of supplying PFC free water-repellent technology to manufacturers of outdoor clothing. Nikwax Hydrophobic Down is much more resistant to wet conditions than untreated down. Untreated down quickly loses its fill power and insulating properties in damp conditions, whereas Nikwax Hydrophobic down can maintain its loft, and fill power, even when the outer fabric is saturated. Test results show Nikwax Hydrophobic Down absorbs 13 times less water than untreated down.