Responsible usage of Fluorochemicals
Gore Fabrics’ Goal and Roadmap for Eliminating PFCs of Environmental Concern
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.
Gore Fabrics intends to eliminate PFCs of Environmental Concern from its consumer fabrics products. This is an important milestone in a long-term journey to continuously reduce the environmental footprint of its products throughout their full life cycle. By implementing an aggressive innovation program, Gore is working towards the elimination of PFCs of Environmental Concern from its Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatments and membrane manufacturing processes as a two-step initiative:
- 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.
"Gore continuously strives to deliver outdoor products with the optimal combination of high technical performance and sustainability. By adopting the ambitious goal to eliminate PFCs of Environmental Concern from all of our consumer fabrics products we are underlining our decades long commitment to continuously improve the environmental profile of our products. Together with our suppliers, we intend to achieve our goal through an aggressive innovation program that will entail the development of new DWR treatments and membrane materials."Christian Langer, member of the Gore Fabrics Divisional Leadership Team
PFCs (per and poly-fluorinated chemicals) is a term with no commonly agreed definition, and like PFAS (per and poly fluorinated alkyl substances), generally refers to a broad group of highly fluorinated compounds with vastly differing physical attributes and properties. So, in communicating about PFCs it is important to be specific about the particular PFC or group of PFCs being discussed.
Gore has identified a group of PFCs as being of environmental concern. These PFCs of Environmental Concern are highly fluorinated, small enough to be bioavailable, and persistent. Although not all PFCs of Environmental Concern are hazardous, they do have the potential to become widely dispersed in water, where they will remain for multiple generations. Therefore, Gore Fabrics has established goals to eliminate them from the life cycle of our consumer fabrics products.
PTFE is not a PFC of Environmental Concern. PTFE is safe and environmentally sound. This fluoropolymer is highly stable, too large to be bioavailable, insoluble in water, and does not degrade in the environment. Therefore, it is not a PFC of Environmental Concern and it does not degrade into them.
DWR (Durable Water Repellent) Treatments
GORE-TEX garments have a textile treatment called DWR - a durable water repellent polymer - applied to the outermost fabric layer so that water beads up and rolls off rather than soaking in. DWR is important as it provides comfort and protection to the end-user.
Once the water repellency is lost users feel uncomfortable and may not be able to maintain the right body temperature resulting for example in loss of focus and endurance. Also end-users may perceive the garments are not waterproof. As a consequence such products may no longer be used and replaced with new ones. In other words: a low performing DWR can increase the negative environmental impact of a jacket.
The substances we use today for our DWR are safe for the end-user and the environment when applied responsibly. Gore Fabrics uses only those materials that have gone through thorough scrutiny by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are approved for use in Europe, Japan and China as well as meeting Norway’s product standards.
In 2016 Gore announced its intention to deliver a new DWR offering. This DWR will be free of PFCs of Environmental Concern. The new products will be designed for the general outdoor consumer and for end-uses where the high performance and durability of current short-chain PFC-based solutions are not fully exploited, e.g. day hiking or lift served skiing. These products are planned to be available at retail for Autumn /Winter 2018 season.
At the heart of GORE-TEX fabrics is an extremely thin membrane that is durably waterproof, windproof and breathable. Gore Fabrics uses ePTFE (an expanded form of PTFE) for this membrane.
PTFE is a fluoropolymer. Fluoropolymers are extremely valuable materials that have unique properties and enable high performing products. For example, the use of fluoropolymers will enhance the durability of a product, enabling a longer life and lowering its environmental footprint. Fluoropolymers are a separate family of high-performance plastics that are different from water and oil repellency treatments.
This fluoropolymer is inert, insoluble in water, extremely stable and not biodegradable. Therefore, it does not degrade to become a source of PFCs of Environmental Concern.
The clear distinction between PFCs of Environmental Concern and PTFE will help overcome a long-standing ambiguity of how to differentiate materials that are safe from those that raise concerns. In addition to providing clearly defined guardrails for the outdoor industry, a rigorous and precise definition clears the way for Gore and its customers to deliver more sustainable technology innovations. Bernhard Kiehl, Gore Fabrics Sustainability Leader
History of ePTFE
The expansion process was first discovered by Bob Gore when he rapidly stretched PTFE under certain conditions. The result was an incredibly strong, microporous material with an amazing list of characteristics including low water adsorption and good weathering properties, expanded PTFE or ePTFE. In 1970 Gore applied for what was to become the first of many patents for GORE-TEX products made with Gore's signature product technology.
We believe there is a clear and important distinction between PTFE and the PFCs of Environmental Concern, a position supported by sound science.
PTFE is non-toxic, safe for the end-user, insoluble and biocompatible. It is a large, stable molecule that does not degrade to become a source of PFCs of Environmental Concern.
Will your new products made and treated without PFCs of Environmental Concern provide for an equal level of performance as your current technology?
This is clearly the goal Gore Fabrics has set. Gore Fabrics continuously strives to deliver outdoor products with the optimal combination of high technical performance and sustainability. Maintaining end-use specific quality and performance standards is prerequisite for any new technology developments.
Does Gore Fabrics' Goal to eliminate PFCs of Environmental Concern mean that Gore Fabrics will not longer use PTFE?
No. As a material science company, we are simultaneously pursing multiple technical paths for our fabrics products and not limiting ourselves to only fluoromaterials, however we believe that PTFE will continue to be the material of choice for many applications.
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To ensure the highest quality and safety of our products, Gore Fabrics is partner of bluesign® standard and OEKO-TEX® Standard 100.
Fluorochemicals have a broad range of physical attributes and unique properties. Many of them are used in industry and food applications including consumer goods.
Everyone at Gore is expected to demonstrate integrity in all relationships with suppliers, customers, stakeholders and Gore associates.