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Recycled materials are used to manufacture everything from apparel to phone cases. These days it seems like every single supplier can ensure that their materials are “eco friendly”. But, how can you be sure that the materials are actually recycled?
That’s where the Global Recycling Standard (GRS) comes in. In short, GRS helps importers and manufacturers ensure that their materials are recycled, and also comply with certain standards concerning chemicals and environmental practices.
Keep reading this article written by Shufen Lee, to learn what you must know about Global Recycling Standard (GRS) and how it can help your efforts to make your products more sustainable.
What materials are covered under GRS?
Recycled materials that can be certified for their contents include both finished and intermediate products. Although GRS was developed for the textile industry, it can also be applied to products from other sectors (metal, paper, and plastic). For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing solely on textile products.
The most common intermediate textile products that are covered under GRS include:
Recycled Fabrics – Cotton, Polyester, Nylon, etc.
Recycled Down, Feathers
Recycled PET chips
Recycled Yarns / Threads
Example of finished products that are covered under GRS are:
Clothing made with recycled materials
Clothing containing recycled filling materials
Home textile products such as bedspreads, draperies, drapery liners and curtains, blankets
Home textile products containing filling materials, such as quilts, comforters and sleeping bags
What is Recycled?
Recycled materials are waste materials that are reclaimed and then reprocessed into something new, instead of being disposed off to landfills.
Reclaimed materials can come from:
a. Post-Consumer Materials: Materials generated by households or by commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product, that can no longer be used for its intended purpose
b. Pre-Consumer or Post Industrial Materials: Materials diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process.
What is GRS?
GRS is the acronym for Global Recycled Standard. It is one of the most common certification standards for textiles made with recycled materials.
The standard sets requirements for third-party certification of:
Recycled Content: Products are verified to contain at least 20% of recycled material. Both pre-consumer and post-consumer material are accepted.
Chain of custody: Each stage of production is required to be certified, starting at the recycling stage and ending at the last seller in the final business-to-business transaction.
The chain of custody framework provides verification of recycled materials without your own supply chain traceability. The framework works similar to a domino, where the only way you can receive certified goods is that all the steps before that, (recycler, fiber manufacturer, yarn manufacturer and fabric manufacturer, etc.) have gone through the third party certification.
Social and Environmental practices: GRS sites are required to meet strict social and environmental requirements.
Chemical restrictions: GRS restricts the use of hazardous chemicals in the processing of GRS products with the following requirements:
b. Exclusion of substances that do not comply with ZDHC’s Manufacturer’s Restricted Substance List
c. Exclusion of substances and mixtures classified with particular hazard codes or risk phrases
GRS requires suppliers to pass onsite audits of the facilities performed by a third party GRS approved certification body. There are only a handful of GRS certified bodies in Asia, which are:
Control Union Certifications B.V.
GCL International Ltd.
IDFL Institute and Laboratory
Are all recycled suppliers certified to GRS?
No. Even though the recent years have seen a much higher number of manufacturers that are GRS certified (the total number has increased from 1,924 in 2018 to 6,755 in 2019),
GRS has still not been widely adopted. Therefore, you should not assume that all recycled textile products are GRS certified.
How do I find suppliers with GRS certified recycled materials?
A GRS certified supplier should be able to provide a GRS certificate issued by one of the approved certified bodies. This certificate is called Scope Certificate (SC), and verifies that the supplier is qualified to produce goods according to the GRS standard.
However, you should not take the GRS scope certificate at face value. Take a closer look at the following:
Supplier: If you are a brand or retailer, you need to check whether a scope certificate is being held by the apparel supplier you are contacting. The name of your apparel supplier, name of the site supplying the products, and the processing steps or activities should be listed down on the certificate. The processing steps or activities should be corresponding to the services your immediate supplier provides.
Keep in mind that most apparel factories work with multiple fabrics suppliers and they may provide scope certificates owned by other fabrics suppliers, which are not theirs.
Certification Body: Is the certification body on the list of approved GRS certification bodies? If not, the certificate is not valid. The certification body should also be able to verify that the certificate is authentic based on the unique certificate number on the scope certificate
Valid until: When was the scope certificate issued? Is the scope certificate still valid? GRS scope certificate usually expires within a year.
Version: Is the GRS scope certificate the latest version? GRS 4.0 is the most current version at this point in time.
Product categories: Is the product category matching your apparel?
To find a list of GRS certified suppliers, click here.
How do I make sure the products purchased are actually GRS certified?
Just because the apparel supplier that you contact has the scope certificate does not mean that the products you will receive are necessarily GRS certified.
A scope certificate merely indicates that the site is able to produce products according to the GRS standard.
Apparel suppliers are buying from and selling to multiple people in the supply chain, and they are allowed to trade non-GRS certified products.
In order to verify that the product you received from the supplier is GRS certified, you also need to request for the Transaction Certificate (TC) from the apparel supplier. TC should be included in the shipment of the GRS certified products.
TC is issued by a certification body and verifies that the shipment of specific products contains the claimed recycled material. TCs are issued each time goods change ownership.
A valid TC should contain the following information:
Buyer and seller information,
Where the products are shipped from and to
Overall volume and description of product
Recycled content percentage
Information regarding whether it is coming from pre or post-consumer materials.
You need to ensure that the details on the TC are correct and they match your invoices and shipping documents.
Essentially, you need both SC and TC from your supplier to verify recycled content as the products move along the supply chain.
Making a claim about your sourced products
If you are the last buyer in the business-to-business transaction, i.e. the GRS certified product that you source will be sold directly to consumers, you do not need to be GRS certified (or you don’t need to hold a valid SC).
Given the above, you can still tell others about the big commitments you have made.
Anytime you mention the GRS standard, you need to make sure that you follow the GRS labeling guideline.
Generally, there are two kinds of claims that are used to communicate about the GRS standard, which are, general marketing claims and product-specific claims.
When you refer to standards without mentioning a specific product or product category, these are called general marketing claims. For example, stating that you are currently purchasing GRS certified products, or your commitment to use, future use, or percentage of volume goals.
When you refer to standards when mentioning a specific product or product category, these are called product-specific claims.
Examples of product-specific claims include printed claims such as hangtags, clothing labels or non-printed claims such as online product description and catalog product description in websites or in-store
How can I make product-specific claims?
To make product-specific claims, whether they are printed or non-printed, you need to ensure these criteria are being met:
1. The final product is GRS certified up to the seller in the last business to business transaction. If you are the last buyer in the business-to-business transaction, your immediate supplier needs to hold a valid SC which includes the correct product category.
2. The final product must contain at least 50% GRS certified material, whether they are coming from pre or post-consumer materials. However, you do not need to specify the percentage of GRS certified content in your product-specific claims.
3. Any product-specific claims and associated label/hangtag artwork is approved by a certification body.
4. Printed claims (e.g. hangtags and sewn-in labels) are physically attached to certified products by certified companies only.
Keep in mind that if your company does not require certification, you must request your immediate certified supplier to attach hangtags or labels themselves.
What must be included in the product-specific claims?
1. GRS Logo is mandatory for consumer-facing labeling
2. A reference to the last certified company ( certification number provided by the CB, the name and/or logo)
3. A reference to the responsible certification body (name and/or logo of the CB)
The certification body and certified company shall appear at least once on the product-specific claim of each product. All required information shall be included near the GRS logo.
How to get started on sourcing GRS certified products?
1. For starters, plan which materials you want to source and which suppliers you want to work with.
2. Communicate your targets and plans to stakeholders, both internal and external, to get the products ready and your own systems in place.
3. If you want to start sourcing certified recycled material, begin with asking your suppliers if they are certified. If they are, they should be able to provide you with a scope certificate (SC). This is the only first step and is not sufficient to verify that any particular product is certified.
4. You can immediately start requesting certified products from your vendors. You do not need to be certified to do that.
5. You also need to request transaction certificates (TC) from your certified suppliers to verify you are getting certified products.
About Shufen Lee
Shufen Lee has been residing in Toronto since 2007 and holds a BMath at the University of Waterloo.
Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.