Last updated: December 2015
Detox the Great Outdoors
In September 2015, Greenpeace launched the Detox Outdoor campaign to get outdoor brands to eliminate the use of toxic PFCs to waterproof their products. This is part of Greenpeace’s wider Detox campaign which they began in 2011.
Discover our ethical shopping guide to outdoor gear
What are PFCs?
PFCs are per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, which are used for their ability to repel water, dirt and oil. PFC use can also be identified by various other names including PFOA, PFOS, PTFE and PFAS.
If an outdoor jacket is waterproof and doesn’t say it’s PFC-free, it may well contain them. The widely known and used materials Gore-Tex and Teflon use a PTFE membrane. You will see many companies using the term DWR (durable water repellent), which in many cases will contain PFCs.
PFCs are man-made compounds of carbon and fluorine and are so stable that they can hardly be removed from the environment, if at all. According to Greenpeace, they accumulate in blood, and have even been found in the blood of Arctic polar bears and newborn human babies. A Swedish government report from Spring 2015 states that PFOS, PFOA and some related substances are classified as ‘reproductively toxic, carcinogenic and harmful to the thyroid’.
What are brands doing?
Not all companies are transparent about what technologies they are using. As the volume of the compounds used is relatively low (only 2-3% of the weight of the fabric), companies are not obliged to report their use by law. But the threshold for the requirement on manufacturers to declare use will be dropping from 100 tonnes per year, to 1 tonne per year in June 2018.
Most of the brands in this guide have switched from using ‘long-chain’ PFOAs to ‘short-chain’ PFCs. But while they may now be able to say they are PFOA-free, they still use PFCs.
The switch to ‘short-chain’ PFCs is worrying. Less is known about them, but they need to be used in higher volume to achieve the same results, and are more volatile so they spread more easily. Greenpeace says they can also transform into the more toxic long-chain PFCs over time. Over 200 scientists signed the 2015 ‘Madrid statement’, calling for the elimination of ALL PFCs, and the development of more alternatives.
Alternatives to PFCs
When Greenpeace expeditions went to remote and mountainous locations around the world in May and June 2015 to see how widely PFCs had spread, they used PFC-free equipment, some from Paramo who feature in this guide. They hiked through wind, rain and snow, and their gear performed well.
Alternatives include wax or paraffin coatings, polyurethane (PU) or silicone, Ventile cotton, and new formulations such as ‘ecorepel’.
At the time of writing, over 60,000 people had signed Greenpeace’s Detox Outdoor Manifesto. Thousands of those have also contacted brands to ask ‘Do you use PFCs?’, and have voted for which products Greenpeace should test for PFCs. In January 2016, the test results will be published.
The campaign is calling on all clothing companies to eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020.
Sign the manifesto
Do you have ideas for a Global Week of Action? Tell them here.
PFCs are also used in tents, shoes, swimwear, carpets and upholstery, as well as non-textile products such as carpet shampoo, car and floor wax, smartphone screen coatings, cosmetics and dental materials.