Substitution of printing thickener and silicon softener in the manufacture of printed textiles, to avoid Phthalate contamination.

June 2018


As part of its Detox commitment, Tesco recommends the testing of wastewater from supplier units for the presence of restricted chemical groups.  During one such study, Phthalates were detected in the inlet water and the water before the treatment at a textile manufacturing facility in India. A review of the facility’s chemical inventory found a printing thickener and a silicon softener containing Dibutyl Phthalates.

Both chemicals were replaced with Phthalates-free alternatives in collaboration with the chemical manufacturer. The supplier also implemented a preventive action plan to avoid any recurrence.

Substituted substances

Printing thickener containing Phthalates, and silicon softener containing Phthalates

Alternative substances

Phthalate-free formulation of printing thickener, and Phthalate-free formulation of Silicon softener


  • Sector: Manufacture of textiles, wearing apparel, leather and related products.
  • Process: Printing/ stamping/ flexography/ offset/ primer
  • Function of substituted chemicals: Printing auxiliary (Thickener) and Softener
  • Enterprise using the alternative: Tesco Stores Ltd (F&F Clothing), 6 Trident Place, Mosquito Way, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9UL.
  • State of implementation: in use
  • Date when alternative was implemented and in what country: 2018, India
  • Availability of the alternative: on the market
  • Reliability of information: there is evidence that the solution was implemented and in use at the time of publication

Substitution Description

Phthalates are man-made organic chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics and Polyvinyl Chloride to improve flexibility & durability. In textile production, Phthalates are used mainly in plastisol inks used for printing designs on to garments, where they are added to printing paste to soften the print. Phthalates do not bind to the polymer itself, and hence they leach out during the life cycle of the product. 

Six Phthalates are regulated in Europe through the REACH regulation (Annex XVII). Limits for these phthalates are set at 1000 mg per kg of plasticised material. Phthalates are also regulated in the USA through the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and various state regulations.

Tesco has restricted Phthalates in products through our Restricted Substances List (RSL).  In line with our Detox commitment, we now aim to ensure zero discharge of Phthalates to the environment. 

Tests at a supplier textile mill in India revealed Phthalates in both inlet water and waste water before treatment. The chemical inventory of the facility was screened for probable sources of Phthalates, and seven samples were shortlisted for testing. 

A printing thickener and a silicon softener tested positive for Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP). The concentration of DBP found was 82 mg/kg in the thickener and 604 mg/kg in the softener. The mill shared these findings with their chemical suppliers and worked with them to identify alternatives chemicals. These alternatives were then tested at a third-party laboratory in India and found not to contain Phthalates. The mill then implemented the alternative chemicals in bulk production.

This substitution of Phthalates-containing chemicals with alternative colourants has demonstrated the same printing effect can be achieved with a minimum change in process and no impact on product quality.

With Tesco’s support, the supplier is implementing a preventive maintenance plan to avoid Phthalate contamination in the future. The plan includes the following:

  • Phasing out of two chemicals from the chemical inventory and replacement of these with Phthalate-free alternatives
  • Training and discussions with the chemical suppliers at their premises
  • Regular testing of chemical batches from chemical suppliers
  • Regular monitoring of the supplier’s chemical inventory and waste water.

This maintenance plan will support Tesco’s overall aim of zero or minimum release of Phthalates to the environment in its textile supply chain.