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How sports companies phase out dangerous chemicals

Heavy metals, phthalates and biocides. These are some of the chemicals that risk being found in sports and leisure items and that can harm people and the environment. One player that has come a long way in its work to remove these substances from the range is Stadium.

Publicerad: 2021-10-14

The sports and recreational ranges contain a wide array of products, and different goods often entail different chemical risks. The heavy metals lead and cadmium are found in solders inside electrical devices. Short-chain chlorine paraffins (SCCPs) and phthalates are plasticisers, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be found in cookware. Some of these substances are fully or partially regulated, and thus are not permitted in these products.

Sporting goods have also been shown to contain chemicals on the so-called Candidate List of substances of very high concern, in the EU chemical regulation REACH. They are substances classified as, for example, carcinogenic, reproduction-disrupting or hormone-disrupting. All substances on the Candidate List are not completely regulated yet, but because of their properties, they should be avoided. Furthermore, you should be able to inform your customers whether a product contains them. There is particularly a high risk with soft plastic goods, especially those made of PVC.

“Prohibited substances, of course, should not be present in goods,” says Tonie Wickman at the Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution. “The presence of a substance on the Candidate List doesn’t necessarily mean the product is hazardous to use. But the more of these substances we use in society, the greater our exposure risk. We can be exposed to them directly from the products or indirectly via food and water, if the substances have ended up in the environment. Plus, there is a risk of harm to animals and other organisms.”

Whatis reasonable to demand of companies?

The Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution arranged a seminar within the Forum for Chemical Smart Trading, on 28 September 2021, with the theme of chemicals in sports and leisure articles.

What, then, is reasonable to demand of companies that sell sports and recreational products? According to the Swedish Chemicals Agency, companies have a responsibility to stay up-to-date on current legislation and should preferably avoid substances from the candidate list. They should also work proactively by establishing their own redistricted chemicals lists in addition to legislation, and they should communicate these to their suppliers. Systematic methods are required for reviewing supplier test reports and for conducting in-house sample analyses.

“If there is a lack of expertise internally, we recommend entrusting a consultant or industry association,” explained Susan Strömbom, an inspector at the Swedish Chemicals Agency, during the Forum for Chemical Smart Trade-seminar.

Stadiums work with chemicals 

The sports chain Stadium, an actor that has long worked to remove harmful substances from the range, also took part in the seminar. Catrine Marchall, Sustainability Manager, and Titti Larsén, Quality Manager, said that they have their own list of restrictions with chemicals they do not accept in their range.

“We have a checklist for our requirements that everyone in the purchasing department uses,” said Larsén.

Around half of Stadium’s in-store range consists of store brand products, the other half comprises well-known sports brands. Approximately five to eight external brands account for around 80 percent of sales. The company’s goal is for no products to contain the so-called ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS, plasticising phthalates, or antibacterial treatments. About 70 percent of Stadium’s range is clothing and other textile goods, this is what the focus has been mainly on.

“For our own brands, the journey was slightly easier, since we have more control of suppliers than is possible with the external brands,” said Marchall. “We have phased out PFAS, phthalates and antibacterial treatments from our own products.”

"It has been favourable in the long run"

Silver and other biocides are used as an antibacterial treatment to prevent odours in shoes and sportswear. This use has been called into question, as the clothes are nevertheless washed, which means the biocides end up in the washing water which is harmful to humans, wildlife and the environment.

“Our customers do not demand any of the "odorless" products at all, says Titti Larsén. We have had to opt out of certain brands or products to make a statement on this issue. This work continues continuously and follow-ups take place before each season.”

When it comes to goods containing PFAS, Stadium is also refraining from stocking certain brands since they are not doing enough to phase out these substances, which are persistent and resistant to environmental degradation.

“At first it seemed counterproductive to not stock products that customers could easily purchase elsewhere,” says Marchall. “But it has been favourable in the long run. We believe our customers appreciate being able to make good choices by shopping with us.”

Something that can be effective is when multiple retailers join forces and put pressure on a larger brand to phase out a substance. Since the big players are active in so many markets around the world, getting something to happen requires more companies to band together.

“Even though Stadium has a bit left when it comes to external brands – chemicals are an ongoing issue – it’s very positive that they’ve started advancing these issues. Big companies such as Stadium can contribute to important substitution work by making demands on their suppliers,” concludes Tonie Wickman at the Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution.

2 webinars on chemicals in  sports and recreational products

Recording of webinar in Swedish only:

Anna Jacobs

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Anna Jacobs

Centrumledare för Substitutionscentrum

+46 10 228 45 30

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