By Olivia Cahoon
Today’s consumers are more environmentally aware, especially in industries dependent on “greener,” safer options like baby products, clothing, and hospital goods. As more of these products are digitally printed—especially using dye-sublimation (dye-sub)—ensuring textiles and inks do not contain unsafe contaminants becomes critical.
Thankfully, certifications like ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX are available that test textiles and inks for harmful substances and practices. Established in 1992 by the OEKO-TEX international association headquartered in Switzerland, ECO PASSPORT is a leading independent testing and certification system for chemicals, colorants, and auxiliaries used to manufacture textiles. It is also the first certification process to validate textile safety.
With this certification, textile suppliers demonstrate their products are safe for use and created in a sustainable textile production. Products that pass ECO PASSPORT certification requirements are entered into the OEKO-TEX buying guide, which is a central sourcing platform of pre-certified articles and materials. Manufacturers also receive a label for clear identification and traceability of certified products.
Many dye-sub ink vendors place their inks through testing procedures to qualify for ECO PASSPORT certification. Print providers also consider certified dye-sub inks to prove their products do not contain any serious concentrations or harmful substances.
Above: The DuPont Artistri digital textile ink portfolio, including dye-sub inks, are ECO PASSPORT certified.
To apply for the ECO PASSPORT certification, ink vendors need to complete a three-stage verification process that analyzes whether the chemical products and each individual ingredient meet specific requirements in regard to sustainability, safety, and compliance with statutory regulations.
Applicants start the certification process by filling out an ECO PASSPORT application form and sending it to the relevant OEKO-TEX institute with documentation and samples. After the application is received, the vetting process begins at stage one.
During stage one, products are screened at ingredient level—CAS Number—against ECO PASSPORT’s chemicals of concern list. Jonathan Wehrli, product manager, OEKO-TEX, says this list includes a comprehensive collection of restricted substance lists (RSL) and manufacturing restricted substance lists (MRSL) as well as all substances of STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX and Sustainable Textile Production (STeP) by OEKO-TEX. A CAS Number screening is conducted and an RSL-REPORT is generated based off the results, which are sent to the customer.
The information provided to OEKO-TEX determines the product’s disclosure level, which is visible on the RSL-REPORT, says Wehrli. There are three disclosure levels—minimal, partial, and full.
Minimal Disclosure states that OEKO-TEX at least requires the disclosure, including CAS Number, of all ingredients and known impurities, contaminants, and by-products regulated by OEKO-TEX or classified as hazardous in accordance with GHS or according to Article 57 of the REACH Regulations 1907/2006.
Partial Disclosure demands the disclosure—including CAS Number—of all ingredients and known impurities, contaminants, and by-products.
Full Disclosure, including CAS Number, requires disclosure of all ingredients and known impurities, contaminants, and by-products with their concentrations.
“The stage one process helps the customer know if its product contains any restricted or banned substances and if it should continue with the analytical testing of stage two,” comments Wehrli.
At stage two, analytical testing is performed on the product’s sample and specimens at one of the OEKO-TEX institutes. The institute determines the testing scope and type, which depend on the product. According to Wehrli, stage two is passed if no banned substances are found in the product and none of the threshold values are exceeded according to the ECO PASSPORT standards.
The first two stages are mandatory for an ECO PASSPORT certification. “By passing both stages the customer is issued an ECO PASSPORT certificate and label, which they are allowed to use,” shares Wehrli. A product which is ECO PASSPORT certified automatically reaches level one conformance in the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) organization, as well as for all products certified under the ECO PASSPORT.
During the certificate’s period of validity, the institute is authorized to undertake up to two random tests on certified products.
Stage three is an optional verification of product stewardship measures regarding working conditions and environmental management. It entails an assessment of the production site filled out by the vendor and an on-site visit, which is conducted by an OEKO-TEX institute member.
In the assessment, Wehrli says the applicant outlines any practices that ensure good product stewardship, including health, safety, and environment. The OEKO-TEX institute member conducts an on-site visit where quality control and assurance as well as product stewardship is checked. “Chemical storage, labelling, environmental management systems, and health and safety regulations and implementations may be inspected.”
After the assessment, the institute issues an obligation and recommendation list to the customer, which includes obligations the applicant must improve before the next follow-up visit. If there are no obligations after the follow-up visit, stage three is passed. According to Wehrli, any products that are stage three certified automatically reach ZDHC level three conformance.
ECO PASSPORT is only issued to product manufacturers. However, Wehrli says a trader or reseller buying an ECO PASSPORT certified product and reselling it under a different trade name without additional formulation changes may also hold a certificate.
Rejection & Costs
If the test is rejected, the institute notifies the ink vendor and suggests changes for successful re-application. “A failed test can be retaken any time but it is recommended that the ink vendor makes the appropriate and suggested changes to the product first,” advises Wehrli.
The ECO PASSPORT certificate fee is 770 Euro and allows unlimited products from the same product group to be included. Each lab test costs extra and the total cost varies by product. In total, Wehrli says it is usually around 3,000 Euro per product but if multiple similar products are tested the average price usually decreases. The cost for an on-site visit in stage three is also added.
The certification process typically takes two to four weeks after the application is complete and samples received. Once passed, the ECO PASSPORT certificate for stage one and two is valid for one year and the stage three option is valid for three years for all products produced at the audited facility.
Retesting expired certifications require fewer tests and is usually less expensive than initial testing. “This again depends on the amount of tests that have to be conducted but it is almost always cheaper than the first certification,” adds Wehrli. A certificate renewal can be applied for up to three months before its validity ends.
Industries & Target Groups
ECO PASSPORT is applicable to chemical products like textile chemicals, colorants, and auxiliaries, as well as preparations used in textile, clothing, or closely related industries. A variety of all textile chemical manufacturers and traders can apply for the certification including traders, distributors, brands, and retailers.
“Target groups that should consider getting verified are companies that hold the belief that their products should be produced in a safe and environmentally friendly manner and not contain substances which would be harmful for human health,” comments Wehrli. “Being able to be identified as such and identifying others via the ECO PASSPORT is a big goal of OEKO-TEX so that a network of responsible companies can be formed.”
ECO PASSPORT certifications are not only beneficial to ink vendors but also to print providers as consumers become more aware of environmental safety standards.
Because the certification proves that certified dye-sub inks do not contain any serious concentrations or harmful substances, Wehrli says print service providers (PSPs) are assured that the inks comply with safety concerns. PSPs can then use this knowledge to communicate with end users, further promoting the safety of their products created with certified inks. Additionally, if inks are stage three certified it proves they are produced under safe and environmentally friendly conditions.
“If the print provider is looking to be certified by any OEKO-TEX certificates it will be easier by using ECO PASSPORT certified products since they already meet the needed requirements,” comments Wehrli. For example, OEKO-TEX offers the STANDARD 100 certification system for raw, semi-finished, and finished textile products at all processing levels. It also provides the STeP certificate for brands, retail companies, and manufacturers from the textile chain that want to communicate their sustainable manufacturing process achievements to the public in a transparent, credible, and clear manner.
This is increasingly important as product information is made more readily available to consumers. “That’s why they demand wares that must be a mix of aesthetics, technical performance, as well as manufacturers taking care of safety for the environment and workers,” says Monica Cingolani, image and communication manager, JK Group.
In most products, testing excellence is attributable to quality, consistency, and reliability—but in the textile market Cingolani says that’s not enough. “Certifications become an additional element of choice.” For example, ZDHC or Detox campaign worldwide programs—of which global brands are parties—aim to reach more sustainable textile production chains and reduce hazardous chemical usage.
“This is an international safety standard in the textile industry. It is certified to be safe for adults and children, including babies,” agrees Timothy Check, senior product manager, Epson.
Further, the certification meets the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act requirements, which provide regulatory and enforcement tools that address safety statues, including durable infant and toddler products, lead, and toy safety. It also defines the children’s product term and requires children’s products comply with all safety rules and be tested for compliance. “Many retailers require that the products they sell meet government requirements for consumer safety, which the ECO PASSPORT certificate is acceptable,” offers Check.
Available Certified Inks
The OEKO-TEX buying guide lists all ECO PASSPORT certified products, including dye-sub inks for digital printing.
DuPont Advanced Printing announced in Fall 2018 that its DuPont Artistri digital textile ink portfolio—including dye-sub inks—are ECO PASSPORT certified. This includes its Artistri Xite S1500, S2500, and S3500 inks, which offer better jetting, image sharpness, intensity of black ink, and color saturation, according to the company.
Released in October 2016, Epson UltraChrome DS is an ECO PASSPORT certified ink designed for use with Epson SureColor F-Series dye-sub printers. The inks are optimized for improved color vibrancy, machine reliability, and safety. They include high-density black ink that produces exceptional color saturation and high contrast, according to Check.
“Epson UltraChrome DS inks are independently screened to ensure that the inks do not contain harmful chemicals listed on the RSL and MRSL,” he shares. The inks are shipped in collapsible bags that reduce packaging waste for minimal environmental impact. A box of six 1,000 milliliter bags is available for $749.95 MSRP.
InkTec’s SubliNova HI-LITE ink is designed for printers equipped with Epson DX5 and DX7 printheads. Its high-density black and color ink formula prints onto any uncoated and coated lightweight transfer papers while delivering low production costs. SubliNova HI-LITE has a fast drying time and maintains quality under a high-speed option.
Mimaki USA, Inc.’s original Sb54/310/410 and Sb320/420 sublimation inks are ECO PASSPORT certified. The Sb54/310/410 inks are available for use in Mimaki TS Series transfer sublimation printers and Sb320/420 inks for TX Series direct to fabric printers.
Through one of its commercial brands, Kiian Digital, JK Group offers the Digistar HI-PRO and Digistar K-ONE ink sets. Both released in April 2018, the inks feature improved release transfer capacity and are compatible with Kyocera printheads.
Digistar K-ONE is ideal for long runs and allows process standardization—reducing operating costs. Its color extension and brightness also allows for wide color space reproduction, says Cingolani. Digistar HI-PRO features high color concentration, good general fastness, and drying quickness.
Sensient Imaging Technologies’ newly released digital sublimation ink, ElvaJet Opal SC, is designed for industrial printers using Konica Minolta, Kyocera, and Panasonic printheads. It delivers high color vibrancy with improved print stability over long runs. Advanced technology increases performance in production printing, minimizing the need for maintenance. ElvaJet Opal SC is intended for a variety of applications including sportswear, flags and banners, and fashion.
Sun Chemical’s SunTex inkjet inks are ECO PASSPORT approved and formulated to ensure the components such as color dyes, pigments, and resin types enable the final printed product to comply with OEKO-TEX Standard 100. Its compatible ink sets include the SunTex Sonata DTY for Kyocera printheads and SunTex Sonata DTR for Ricoh Gen 5 printheads.
“The OEKO-TEX Standard certification is a critical requirement for many end users as it ensures the finished product—in many cases clothing garments—will meet regulatory requirements, particularly for human contact items across multiple market regions,” says Phil Jackman, global product manager, digital, Sun Chemical.
With the ECO PASSPORT certification, textile chemical suppliers like dye-sub ink vendors demonstrate their products are used in sustainable textile production. As a result, print providers can prove to customers that their digitally printed products are environmentally friendly and contain safe substances.
Feb2019, Digital Output