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  • Writer's pictureBenson Li

Understanding PFAS in Bags & Backpacks: Global Policies & Safer Alternatives

Updated: May 7

In an era where sustainability is paramount, understanding the materials that make up our daily products is crucial. A particular group of chemicals that have garnered widespread attention are PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are found in numerous consumer goods, including bags and backpacks. This guide delves into the issue of PFAS within the bag and backpack industry, examining global policies, compliance strategies, and alternatives that ensure consumer safety and environmental sustainability.




What is PFAS? Why is it a problem?

PFAS are a family of synthetic chemicals, used across various industries for their resistance to heat, water, and oil. Unfortunately, these properties also mean that PFAS chemicals are incredibly persistent, earning them the nickname "forever chemicals." This persistence allows them to accumulate in the environment and the human body, leading to a host of potential health issues—including increased cancer risk, immune suppression, and endocrine disruption. As PFAS can transfer from products to the body and environment, their widespread use in consumer goods, including textiles for bags and backpacks, poses significant risks.


PFAS Policies for Bag and Backpack Products in Various Countries

Recognizing the concerns associated with PFAS, governments worldwide have begun to take action:

  • USA: States such as California have restrictions on PFAS usage in children's products, driving manufacturers to seek PFAS-free materials for bags and backpacks.

  • EU: With ambitious plans to phase out PFAS, the EU has set the regulatory bar high, affecting a multitude of products and industries.

  • UK: Mirroring EU regulations post-Brexit, the UK continues to weigh the implications of PFAS and adjust its regulatory stance accordingly.

  • Canada: By deeming some PFAS compounds toxic, Canada is actively assessing usage and potential restrictions.

  • Australia: Although slower to regulate, Australia's review of PFAS use is steering the country towards firmer policies.

  • Asia: Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea, have adopted targeted PFAS restrictions, signaling a growing awareness of the issue.




Where is PFAS Usually Found in Bag and Backpack Products?

PFAS often lurk in the water-resistant coatings and stain-resistant finishes of bags and backpacks. Manufacturers historically favored PFAS for their robust protective qualities, bolstering product life and performance against wear and tear.


Compliance with Legal Requirements

Adapting to PFAS regulations requires due diligence from manufacturers, involving:

  • Rigorous testing for PFAS within materials and finished products.

  • Identification and adoption of PFAS-free raw materials.

  • Compliance with third-party certifications that verify PFAS-free manufacturing practices.


These steps ensure that products conform to legal standards and meet consumer expectations for safety and environmental responsibility.




Timeline for PFAS Regulations in Different Countries/Regions

The following outlines the current status and timelines for PFAS regulations in various countries and regions:

  • United States: The regulatory landscape is a patchwork, with states acting individually. For example, California's legislation, SB 1044, will ban PFAS in firefighting foams by 2022, and its AB 1200 will phase out PFAS in food packaging by 2023. The U.S. EPA is also working on a PFAS Strategic Roadmap, setting timelines for actions through 2024, including regulating PFAS in drinking water, phasing out certain PFAS in commerce, and enhanced PFAS monitoring.

  • European Union: The EU aims for a broad and ambitious "PFAS-free environment" by 2030, with specific measures being rolled out in stages. REACH, the EU's primary chemical regulation, has progressively listed more PFAS substances as "Substances of Very High Concern," and the EU's Drinking Water Directive, which will come into full effect by 2022, imposes limits on PFAS in drinking water.

  • Canada: Canada's PFAS assessment program has led to certain long-chain PFAS being declared toxic, and action plans are in place. A significant development is the prohibition of PFOS, its salts, and its precursors, which came into effect in 2016, and ongoing risk assessment of other PFAS compounds.

  • Australia: Australia's PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) 2.0, updated in 2020, provides a framework for the environmental regulation of PFAS, with an emphasis on managing legacy contamination. There are no specific PFAS bans in consumer products to date, but growing awareness and assessment may lead to stricter policies in the coming years.

  • United Kingdom: Post-Brexit, the UK retains EU's REACH regulations within its domestic law known as UK REACH. While UK REACH is set to evolve independently, for now, it continues to impose controls on PFAS substances. The UK's Environment Agency is active in managing PFAS contamination and working towards reducing emissions.

  • Asia: Countries in Asia are at varying stages of PFAS regulation. Japan has one of the most advanced regulatory frameworks, with restrictions on manufacture, import, and use of certain PFAS since the early 2000s. South Korea has also taken action on PFAS in consumer products, classifying PFOA as a toxic substance and monitoring its usage since 2013.

  • Scandinavia: Scandinavian countries have been frontrunners in PFAS restrictions. For example, Sweden has called for a ban on all non-essential uses of PFAS, and Norway has banned the use of PFOS in consumer products.


It is important to recognize that timelines and the scope of regulations will continue to evolve, and businesses must stay updated to ensure compliance. Consumers and environmental groups can also play a role in advocating for stricter controls and swifter timelines in regions where PFAS regulation is less developed.


Alternatives to PFAS Coatings and Solutions

As the industry moves away from PFAS, various alternatives are being adopted to provide safety without compromising functionality:


  • Polyurethane (PU) coatings: These offer a level of water resistance without using harmful PFAS chemicals and have emerged as a popular substitute.

  • Wax-based treatments: Natural waxes, such as beeswax or soy wax, offer environmentally friendly and biodegradable options for water-repellent coatings.

  • C0 water-repellent coatings: Representing the forefront of sustainable textile innovation, C0 coatings are the leading alternatives today. These finishes employ a PFAS-free formula, using either zero or low fluorine, significantly minimizing environmental and health risks. Their rising popularity stems from their advantageous environmental profile, making them an exemplary choice for conscious consumers and manufacturers alike.



Understanding C0 Water-Repellent Coatings

In the quest to find eco-friendly alternatives to traditional PFAS coatings, C0 water-repellent finishes stand out for their minimal environmental footprint and exceptional performance. These innovative coatings represent a new era in textile technology, one that does not rely on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) known for their persistence in the environment and potential health risks.


What Makes C0 Coatings Different?

C0 water-repellent finishes are designed to provide durable water repellency (DWR) to fabrics without using long-chain fluorocarbons, which are the main components of traditional PFAS-based finishes. Instead, they utilize short-chain molecules that are less bioaccumulative and more degradable, making them a safer alternative for both the environment and human health.


The formulation of C0 coatings involves innovative chemistry that allows them to repel water effectively while maintaining the fabric's breathability. This means outdoor and activewear treated with C0 finishes can still offer the wearer protection from the elements without compromising on comfort or contributing to harmful environmental impacts.


Moreover, the application process of C0 coatings is designed to be more energy-efficient compared to traditional methods, further reducing the carbon footprint associated with their production and use.


Why Consider C0 Coatings?

Choosing C0 water-repellent finishes aligns with a growing trend towards more sustainable consumption and production practices. By opting for C0-treated fabrics, consumers and manufacturers alike are taking an active step towards reducing the reliance on harmful chemicals and promoting a more responsible approach to environmental stewardship.


It's not just about the environmental benefits; C0 coatings also meet the high standards required for performance and durability in outdoor and technical apparel. This ensures that choosing a sustainable option does not mean compromising on quality or functionality.


For those interested in deeper insight into the composition, benefits, and applications of C0 water-repellent technology, the Outdoor Industry Association provides an insightful resource. Within their Sustainability News collection, you'll find up-to-date discussions on the latest advancements in textile coatings, including C0 water-repellent finishes.


This platform goes beyond individual technologies and encompasses a broader perspective on sustainable material innovations across the outdoor industry. Engaging stories and detailed analyses highlight paths towards sustainable growth, underscored by initiatives such as the PFAS phase-out.


By exploring the Sustainability News section, businesses and outdoor enthusiasts alike can discover practical steps for eco-friendly advancements. The site celebrates outdoor brands making significant strides in climate action and showcases leaders who drive environmental stewardship.


Let’s delve into the rich content that chronicles our industry's commitment to sustainability. The intersection of environmental health, human well-being, and economic vitality paints a vivid picture of the progress we’ve made and the journey that lies ahead.


Conclusion

The move towards PFAS-free bags and backpacks is not merely regulatory—it's a conscious shift towards products that safeguard our health and the planet. This guide has outlined the crucial aspects of PFAS, current regulations, and safer alternatives, empowering you to make choices that make a positive impact.


By seeking products with environmentally friendly waterproof coatings like C0 and other alternatives, we as consumers can demand higher standards and drive industry-wide change. With every PFAS-free purchase, we contribute to a safer, more sustainable world.

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