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Polygiene® - silver salt

We have received criticism for our use of Polygiene® lately. We still stand by the statements below, and have yet to see reliable evidence that Polygiene® could be harmful to the environment or cause resistant bacteria. However we take our customers and their comments and concerns very seriously in Norrøna, and as a result of customer feedback we have chosen to discontinue the use of Polygiene®.

Why we use it?
You need to see the bigger picture here: The textile industry is taking its toll on the environment, and the demands are ever increasing. Cotton, wool and polyester are some of the more important fibers used. Cotton has a bad reputation from an environmental standpoint; very high water consumption and excessive use of pesticides. Wool requires treatment involving strong chemicals before it can be used. Polyester is made in part from oil, but the great advantage compared to the other two fibers is that it can be easily recycled.

One of the most important tools we have in our toolbox to ensure an environmentally friendly production and value chain is that we make high quality products that last. Some estimates indicate that 2/3 of the environmental impact of a garment happens after it is sold. This is mainly due to wear and tear during washing.

So how do we alleviate this?
One solution is to make clothes that require less washing. The "Wear More, Wash Less"-campaign has been fronted by many big brands (especially in regards to denim). So the intention with Polygiene® is that we use a recyclable fabric and treat it so that less washing is required, and you can wash at lower temperatures. In that way we hope to change the attitude of consumers, and provide a product with a longer life span and a smaller environmental impact.

How does it work?
Polygiene® contains a very small amount of silver salt (AgCl). Silver reduces the growth of bacteria that produces waste that causes smell. Sweat in it is self does not cause smell, it is merely water and salt, but sweat combined with warm areas on the body (e.g. armpits, crotch, etc.) provides excellent conditions for bacteria growth. The Polygiene® treatment is only active in the garment and does not interfere with the skin's natural bacteria. Polygiene® treated fabrics have received Medical Class 1 approval; this class includes bandages for open wounds.

Silver has been around and coexisted with bacteria since the dawn of time, and its bacteria eradicating abilities have been known for centuries. Silver is used in bandages, to clean water, in textiles and shoes to prevent bacteria. Silver also occurs naturally in soil, in water (and drinking water) and in our bodies.

The silver used in Polygiene® is made from 100% recycled silver, and it is Bluesign®-certified - meaning they offer the highest level of consumer safety by employing methods and materials in their manufacturing that conserve resources and minimize the impact on people and the environment. Polygiene is also on the list over approved materials by Oeko-Tex (Oeko-Tex is an independent association that tests textiles for possible harmful substances, and promotes materials that don't pose any health risk for humans or the environment).

What's the controversy about?
It is related to two issues: The environmental impact and possible resistant bacteria.

Resistant bacteria?
There are concerns that the increased use of silver may cause bacteria to become resistant to treatment. A lot of research has been done on this, and as we see it there is no need to be concerned. In the studies where bacteria have been found to become resistant very high levels of silver exposure was used (50.000 times normal exposure), and that bacteria is becoming resistant to silver in a study does not mean it contributes to antibiotic resistance. We use less than what you will find in nature in our products, and the amount released through washing is miniscule. A normal silver ring can be used to treat between 500 and 1000 garments depending in the amount used. Research that tested actual resistance to silver found no proof of resistance among over 500 bacteria tested. Because of this we do not see a risk of resistance developing because of our Polygiene® treatment. Lanolin in wool has the same effect as silver in our clothing.

You can read about the research we regard as the most reliable and significant. It is a short article, but the study is extensive: 519 bacteria were tested for actual resistance towards silver. You can read the article here.

Environmental impact?

Silver is a metal, and in high concentration it can be dangerous to certain organisms. An example is San Francisco Bay; mollusks and crustaceans where harmed by emissions from the photo industry (silver was used to develop photos). Again we are talking about very high concentrations. As mentioned: The amounts we use are lower than the levels naturally found in soil, water, and drinking water. Silver is actually the most common way to treat drinking water.

Quick facts:
• Increase the products life span to reduce the environmental impact
• Very small amounts of silver salt (AgCl) (not nano silvers) reduce bacteria growth and smell, and the product requires less washing
Resistant bacteria?
• The amounts used are smaller than the levels that are naturally found in soil, water, our bodies, etc.
• The studies that suggest possible resistance used extremely high levels of silver exposure (50.000 times normal exposure)
Damage to environment and organisms?
• The amounts released through washing are so small that they are smaller than the levels that are naturally found in soil, water, our bodies, etc.

Norrøna is constantly reviewing the materials and fabrics we use in our products, and if we would find something that is proved as a risk to our health or the environment, we would of course replace this.

Read more here