A Commitment Kept:
How We Eliminated PFAS from Our Portfolio
A Goal Achieved
In February 2022, we announced
that Milliken Textiles intended to remove all PFAS chemistries from our fibers and finishes. One year later, we’re very pleased to say that we’ve done it.
We continually evaluate our approach to sustainability
. Looking at the textiles landscape over the last few years, we felt that the market for products with PFAS chemistries was shifting. It was our belief that a proactive move away from PFAS was necessary. Therefore, we decided to eliminate them from our textiles.
We expected the process to be a complex undertaking — and it was. The science was only part of a bigger picture. Milliken R&D were working hard on solutions, as you would expect. But people from sourcing, compliance, sales, and manufacturing were just as crucial to making it all work. We prefer a wholistic approach. Problems get fixed in all kinds of ways.
Checking Every Angle
Here’s an example: Chef uniforms were one small part of a very large order with the Navy. As it happened, developing the non-PFAS chemistry was remarkably complicated for these uniforms. The handwringing was caused by a single issue — oil block. You probably think we’re about to tell you an impressive story about eureka moments, but in this case the answer turned out to be simpler. The Navy realized that while they needed the uniforms, they could eliminate the requirement for the oil block that contained PFAS. A science issue was solved without using any science. We helped the customer determine exactly what they needed, and we did the science for everything that remained on the list.
We pride ourselves on the talent and capability of our researchers. Overcoming difficult scientific issues is part of who we are. But it’s equally important to establish a coordinated effort between interested parties, such as the relationships we have with our suppliers. To keep PFAS out of our reformulated textile chemistries, we need to know the precise mix of ingredients in all of the component products we purchase. Both Milliken and our suppliers are obligated to find the answers when there’s any uncertainty. We rely on others for help — and we try to provide the same kind of help to our own customers.
A Regulatory Patchwork
Here's a question you might wonder about: What’s happening with the regulatory landscape? The answer is that it’s a patchwork — one that can be difficult to work through. Standardization is necessary and it’s likely we’ll be seeing more and more of it the near future. States are starting to implement PFAS regulations (often total bans). Some of them will take effect in the next few years. Our approach? Start early. Yes, it made economic sense, but it was also the right thing to do. Environmental awareness has a long history at Milliken.
No Single Answer
The scientific details are often very interesting — sometimes in surprising ways. PFAS solutions that worked on polyester might not work on cotton, for example. Durable Water Repellency (DWR) products require multiple PFAS to solve for different textile types. In the case of DWR, we worked through accredited organizations like bluesign® to find alternative chemistries.
Once you jump into a non-PFAS world, the complexities multiply. Here’s a weird one: chemistries that work on blue might not work on tan. We confront this kind of thing every day. Essentially, Milliken is creating a library of non-PFAS chemistries that we can use to address specific needs — and our library is continually expanding.
Our own need-based R&D has sometimes resulted in improvements over PFAS chemistries. We’ve developed some non-PFAS technologies that repel moisture more effectively than PFAS can, and we’ve also created a soil-release chemistry that’s better than the best existing technologies.
We Can’t Do it Alone
The most difficult issue has been oil repellency. This is a perfect example of need driving research. So far, we haven’t been able to come up with a viable technology. None of the people we’ve been in contact with have found an answer, either. We’re looking for a solution to the problem. But whether it’s Milliken, or someone else, we hope to see an answer sooner rather than later.
For us, the bottom line is getting out in front of issues like PFAS. We want to solve for the problems that haven’t arrived yet — not the ones that have.