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Frequently asked questions and answers about PFAS in outdoor products

For years they were considered miracle-workers and were used in countless products to make them water repellent, non-stick and stain resistant – now they are to be banned across the EU. We’re talking about PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). 

They can be found in frying pans, rain jackets, cosmetics, plastic bags, dental floss and many more products. VAUDE supports the planned EU-wide ban and has been working for many years to remove these harmful chemicals from its products. In these FAQs, we explain why and go into more detail on what PFAS are.

PFAS are chemical substances that have advantages in terms of their water-repellent qualities, but they pose enormous health risks. Our Eco Finish weatherproof gear contains no environmentally harmful chemicals from the PFAS group, which also includes fluorocarbons (PFC). This protects you from the rain and keeps the planet clean.

What are PFAS? 

PFAS is an abbreviation for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances”; it includes a group of chemical compounds composed of carbon and fluorine atoms. Because they repel water, grease and dirt, they are used in many products: in rain jackets and kitchen cookware, but also things as diverse as chain grease, dental floss, food wrapping and burger boxes, cosmetics and ski wax.

Why are PFAS dangerous? 

PFAS do not occur naturally and cannot be easily degraded by water, light, or bacteria. This means that the more PFAS are produced and enter the environment, the more they accumulate and endanger animal and human health. This is because PFAS are harmful to health and carcinogenic. Although this has been known for years, the industry has continued to use them; there are very few manufacturers that have made an effort to find alternatives. 

PFAS are artificial substances that do not occur naturally. Because they are not easily degraded, they increasingly accumulate in the environment and endanger animal and human health.

What is happening with the EU ban on PFAS? 

The German government, together with Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, wants to ban approximately 4,700 PFAS chemicals in the EU. The countries have submitted a proposal to this effect to the EU chemicals agency Echa. The planned PFAS ban covers the entire group of substances with several thousand chemicals. 

How does VAUDE view the EU ban on PFAS? 

“We are glad that PFAS are finally to be banned by law and that this issue has now also reached the general public. It affects each and every one of us, no matter where we live in the world. At VAUDE, we have long been voluntarily committed to this issue and have shown that Environmentally friendly, PFAS-free outdoor gear and apparel is possible!” says Antje von Dewitz, VAUDE CEO. Unfortunately, however, this is far from standard. “Too little is being done on a voluntary basis. Therefore, legal regulations are important in making the industry reconsider its position and in advancing the development of PFAS-free alternatives,” von Dewitz continues. 

“Companies that act responsibly to advance ecological transformations are at a competitive disadvantage. We therefore welcome the political push to introduce clear legal regulations at the EU and international levels. This is the only way to accelerate innovation and find the new solutions that we urgently need for a PFAS-free future,” says Antje von Dewitz.

How long has VAUDE refrained from using PFAS or PFC? 

VAUDE has not used polyfluorinated and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which belong to the PFAS group, in waterproof membranes since 2010. In the following years, VAUDE succeeded in eliminating PFCs from more and more dirt and water-repellent gear and apparel in its collection: In 2015 for water-repellent clothing, 2016 for sleeping bags, 2018 for waterproof clothing, and 2020 for footwear and backpacks. We are very proud to announce that since 2021, all of our apparel fabrics have been completely PFC-free. With the voluntary phase-out of PFCs, we have long been going far beyond the legal requirements. We have met this challenge by diligently working for years with our partners in the chemical industry and our material suppliers to find solutions. As a pioneer and trailblazer, VAUDE is today able to demonstrate that it is possible to offer PFC-free alternatives without our customers having to sacrifice important functionality.

We already began removing chemicals like PFAS from our products and looking for eco-friendly alternatives over 10 years ago.

How was VAUDE able to make all of its apparel fabrics, backpacks, and shoes completely PFAS-free starting in 2021? 

VAUDE proactively operates in accordance with the precautionary principle in order to protect people and the environment. “We voluntarily search for environmentally friendly alternatives to harmful substances – even without legal requirements” explains Bettina Roth, Head of Quality Management at VAUDE. VAUDE had already eliminated the use of PFCs in its waterproof membranes by 2010 In the following years, VAUDE succeeded in making more and more of its products PFC-free. As the only major outdoor brand to do so to this day, VAUDE signed the rigorous Greenpeace Detox Commitment in 2016. In doing so, the company made a voluntary commitment to eliminate all harmful substances in its entire production process and to produce the entire collection with PFC-free manufacturing. Its sleeping bags have since become PFC-free, followed by shoes and backpacks in 2020 and all apparel fabrics in 2021.

Why is the PFAS issue getting so much public attention right now? 

The dangers of PFAS have long been known. It is only now, after major media attention and discussions on social media, that the issue has moved into broader public focus. Contributions such as the Pro7 television documentary “Thilo Mischke auf den Spuren tödlicher Chemikalien” have helped raise public awareness. In the documentary, VAUDE is presented as a “best practice” example which has tackled the PFAS phase-out on its own responsibility. “More and more consumers are specifically looking for PFAS-free alternatives, as reported to us by retailers,” says Antje von Dewitz.

By using eco-friendly alternatives, we have long been going far beyond the legal requirements. We are therefore calling for clear legal regulations at the EU and international levels

How is VAUDE politically involved in the PFAS discussion? 

Policymakers are increasingly concerned with PFAS and value VAUDE’s expertise on the issue. For example, the company was recently invited by the German Bundestag and the EU Parliament to report on how it has overcome the challenges of eliminating PFAS. Bettina Roth, Head of Quality Management at VAUDE, took the opportunity to clarify what companies can do and what the path to PFAS-free products can look like. In addition, she advocated for an exchange platform to be created between the chemical industry, companies, the supply chain, and regulators to develop new and safe alternatives to PFAS, evaluate their safety, and make them available to the industry.

Where can I find more information on PFAS elimination at VAUDE?


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