Chain of Custody Models: Product Segregation vs. Mass Balance

02 August 2022

Megan Doyle

Sustainable Fashion Journalist
In this article

For any responsible fashion business, the Chain of Custody (CoC) is at the core of a sustainable supply chain. Referring to the documentation that records a product’s origin, components, processes and handlers through the value chain from raw material to finished good, CoC models are used to validate claims about a product. This is especially relevant for brands using certified materials to prove exactly how much of that material is present in the finished product. 

There are two frequently used models for Chain of Custody: Mass Balance and Product Segregation. These methods help businesses to track their materials and finished goods and understand exactly what goes into their product so they can make accurate sustainability claims. 

CoC models are becoming increasingly important to brands looking to comply with regulations tackling rampant greenwashing in the fashion industry. It’s never been more important for brands to be able to back up their product claims with evidence. 

Say you are a fashion brand producing organic cotton t-shirts — should you choose Mass Balance or Product Segregation CoC model to track and document the manufacturing process? The deciding factor is what kind of claims you want to make about your products. Read on to learn more the differences between these two CoC models.


Product Segregation 

Product Segregation refers to the process of physically separating certified materials from non-certified materials throughout the entire supply chain. In the case of the organic cotton t-shirts, using Product Segregation, an organic cotton farm’s harvest would be processed alongside conventional cotton in the same factory, but you could guarantee that the finished product contained a certain amount of organic fibers.

Product Segregation is a stringent process of tracking materials at every stage throughout the supply chain, so, therefore, you’re able to make very strong claims. For example, you can say that this t-shirt contains X amount of organic fibers, and they came from Y suppliers. 

In order to achieve Product Segregation, you need to have the necessary brand master data as well as the cooperation of your suppliers to provide the required information. This cooperation also depends on the size of your business — smaller brands that don’t command a large capacity of their suppliers might have the data needed for Product Segregation, but they might lack the ability to enforce supplier participation. 

Product Segregation is a more accurate but also more rigorous CoC model for brands to employ because of the greater intervention to track and keep fibers separate. TrusTrace’s newly launched Certified Material Compliance solution uses the Product Segregation CoC model to validate evidence and prove the integrity of certified material content. The CMC solution simplifies and streamlines a brand’s ability to prove product claims by automating the process. 


Mass Balance 

In the Mass Balance CoC model, certified materials are not physically separated and may be mixed with non-certified materials in the processing and manufacturing stage. This means that brands aren’t able to make specific claims about the certified material content of their products. Instead, they’re able to make vague claims such as “We use X% of recycled or organic materials” because this is how much of that certified material was input at the start of the processing stage.

For example, if a brand buys one tonne of certified organic cotton, which is then processed alongside and possibly mixed with three tonnes of generic cotton in the facility, the brand cannot claim that the final product contains a defined amount of organic cotton. They can claim, however, that the final products contain organic cotton.

Mass Balance is a less accurate CoC model. Still, as a starting point for brands that may not have strong data on their certified materials, it can provide a stepping stone towards achieving Product Segregation. 

The CoC model you choose will depend on the needs and goals of your business. If you’re looking to make general claims about the contents of your materials, such as “We use 40% materials from recycled sources” then the Mass Balance CoC model would give you the appropriate authority to make this claim. If you wanted to make a more specific product claim, such as “This product contains 40% recycled materials” then you would need to use the Product Segregation CoC model to prove this.

Closing Thoughts

At TrusTrace, we believe that brands should ambitiously invest in more advanced and granular data-driven models such as Product Segregation to stay one step ahead of evolving regulatory landscape. If your business has the data needed to achieve Product Segregation, it’s the preferred CoC model for TrusTrace. 

For more information on how our Certified Material Compliance solution can help you achieve this and support your brand’s sustainable transformation, find out more information here.

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