Story No. 10: Fabrics that not only dreams are made of

Expert profile of Dr Anne Bonhoff

Dr Anne Bonhoff is Head Chemist of UL Retail & Industry. As a recognized expert in pollutants, toxicology, environmental issues, ecological trends and legislation, she drafts and develops tailored solutions for chemicals management and sustainability along the entire supply chain. UL is one of the leading international testing and certification companies, employing more than 14,000 people worldwide. Dr Anne Bonhoff is active in the field of toxic substances in textiles as an expert in the working groups CEN/TC 248/WG 26 (Textiles – Test methods for analysis of EC-restricted substances) and ISO/TC 38/WG 22 (Textiles – Composition and chemical testing). The SNV spoke to her about her impressive and diverse committee work.

Image caption: Dr Anne Bonhoff, standards expert in textiles
and leather since 2004.

SNV: Can standardization work be interesting?
Dr Anne Bonhoff: I am fascinated by the fact that the topics are never-ending, and that science can contribute countless creative aspects. There are always new procedures and developments that have a profound influence on standardization and in other committees.

SNV: Could you provide an example where this is the case?
Dr Anne Bonhoff: When we wash our clothes made of synthetic fibres such as polyester, polyamide (nylon) and similar fabrics, fine plastic fibres – microfibres – come off and end up in our wastewater. These microfibres, which are smaller than five millimetres and not biodegradable, are referred to as “microplastics”. Since sewage treatment plants do not filter out all microplastics, some of them end up in our waters. These microplastics can be ingested by aquatic organisms and consequently enter the food chain.

Representatives of standardization institutes in Japan and Italy have launched standardization processes in the area of microfibres – i.e. microplastics from textiles. We’re still at the very beginning of this process, and I am quite pleased to be able to contribute to a joint target formulation in this area. This is a particularly hot topic right now and something I find absolutely fascinating. The aim of this work is to find an international consensus on how we will measure microfibres in wastewater in future.

The results obtained with this standard will enable manufacturers of textile items to make an informed choice about fabric types that release fewer microfibres when laundered. The standard could also be used to test the efficiency of fibre retention filters for washing machines.

As you can see, standardization triggers an extremely dynamic process with many twists and turns along the way and is associated with new possibilities.

SNV: What is the current status of this process?
Dr Anne Bonhoff: As an SNV expert in the new working group, I have been nominated to deal with the following topics within CEN/TC 248:

  • Textiles and textile products – Microplastics from textile sources.
    Part 1: Determination of fibre loss from fabrics when they are laundered.
  • Textiles and textile products – Microplastics from textile sources.
    Part 2: Qualitative and quantitative evaluation of microplastics.

I believe that the standard will be complete in approximately three to five years.

SNV: Can the industry wait that long?
Dr Anne Bonhoff: Due to the constant changes and new trends in the textile and fashion sector, the industry cannot wait for a finished standard. That’s why there are also sector-specific committees that are developing their own guidelines on a voluntary basis. These committees stay up to date with the current state of standardization work and use the existing findings to derive rules they want to set for themselves. I’m also a member of several committees important for the textile industry, such as the Lab Advisory Group of the ZDHC Foundation and the Laboratory Technical Advisory Committee of the AFIRM Group.

SNV: What is your role in those committees?
Dr Anne Bonhoff: What’s particularly interesting about my work is that I act as a liaison between these industry bodies and standardization. I contribute my experience and expertise, and bring together understanding from both worlds. As an expert, I have access to a compelling network of key players, not only from the textile industry but along the entire value chain.

SNV: You often deal with toxic substances in textiles and leather – can you give our readers tips on what to look out for when purchasing clothes?
Dr Anne Bonhoff: I try to wash every new garment before I wear it, except when it’s a winter coat or an outdoor jacket. My experience in such matters has made me quite strict in this regard.

In the course of my work, I’ve also become familiar with many brands and know who produces what and how. That allows me to now give preference in my purchasing habits to brands that use textiles produced without toxic substances. In general, I’ve become much more reserved in my consumption of textile and leather goods.

I would also like to take the opportunity to provide another bit of practical advice: I never empty the lint filter of the washing machine and dryer into the drain, but instead put the accumulated lint into the waste bin. Otherwise, the fibres that the screen was able to hold back will still end up in the wastewater.

Image caption: Dr Anne Bonhoff recommends when buying clothes, preference should be given to brands that use textiles produced without harmful substances.

AFIRM Group

Founded in 2004, the Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management (AFIRM) Group is a brand-driven membership organization of apparel and footwear companies collaborating to promote chemicals management in the global supply chain. AFIRM focuses on continuous advancement of chemicals management, including phasing out or limiting restricted substances to established limits in apparel, footwear and accessories.

Find out more

ZDHC Foundation: Roadmap to Zero

The ZDHC Foundation monitors the implementation of the “Roadmap to Zero” programme and is a global multi-stakeholder initiative of more than 160 participating companies from the fashion and footwear industry. The programme covers the entire value chain, in which global brands, chemical suppliers, manufacturers and other organizations work hand in hand.

Textile and fashion brands have joined forces under “Brands to Zero” with the aim of reducing their chemical footprint in order to make a relevant contribution to protecting the environment. The advantages of membership include sustainable chemicals management and outstanding expertise along the entire value chain.

Find out more

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