This New Year’s, retailers should make a resolution to get toxic chemicals out of their products and packaging.
At a time when the EPA is undermining the implementation of the nation’s new chemical safety law enacted just last year, it’s more critical than ever for retailers to step up and use their market clout to drive dangerous chemicals out of commerce and ensure substitutes are safe.
Over the past year, we’ve seen a growing number of retailers adopt new or expand sustainability policies to identify and remove chemicals that are harmful to public health.
In late November, we released our second annual report card on toxic chemicals in consumer products, which found that one-third of 30 major U.S. retailers are leaders, but two-thirds remain serious laggards. The report, Who’s Minding the Store? — A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals, includes evaluations of 19 retailers for the first time and was published on a brand-new, interactive website.
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Overall, 11 retailers evaluated in both 2016 and 2017 have showed substantial improvements in the past year, raising their grade from an average of D+ to C. Seven of these 11 retailers announced significant improvements over the last year alone: Albertsons Companies, Best Buy, Costco, CVS Health, The Home Depot, Target and Walmart released new safer chemicals policies or initiatives. This improvement shows both the impact of the Mind the Store campaign, as well as growing consumer concern and scientific evidence of health impacts from dangerous chemicals.
Since the release of the report, over 10,000 people have taken action, calling on retailers to improve.
Toxic chemicals and chronic diseases on the rise
Scientists, doctors and nurses around the country are sounding the alarm that exposure to toxic chemicals commonly found in everyday household products is contributing to diseases and health problems such as cancer, infertility, learning and developmental disabilities, diabetes and asthma.
Toxic chemicals can end up in our food, water, air and household dust, and most are not adequately regulated. Fetuses and newborn children are the most vulnerable, and face the greatest risks as a result of chemical exposure.
The production, use and disposal of toxic chemicals is costly not only to our health, but also to our nation’s bottom line. Pediatricians and scientists have found that the health effects of exposure to even just a handful of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as flame retardants, phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) may cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare expenses and lost wages a year.
We can protect public health by taking common-sense steps — by phasing out toxic chemicals in everyday products that build up and persist in our bodies. Retailers have an important role to play — they not only have the power but also a moral responsibility to eliminate and safely substitute toxic chemicals to “mind the store.”
Driving a race to the top
In this year’s report card, Apple, Walmart, CVS Health, IKEA, Whole Foods Market and Target received the highest grades, scoring a B+ or above, driving a race to the top to eliminate dangerous chemicals that threaten our families’ health. These companies are setting the pace for the entire retail sector by making meaningful progress toward safer chemicals in products. Meanwhile, the report reveals that retailers such as Amazon, Walgreens and Staples are developing chemicals policies; Walgreens and Staples plan to launch their chemicals policies in 2018.
Among all 30 companies assessed this year, the retail leaders on safer chemical policies and products, ranked by total points scored, and with their earned grades indicated, are:
At the same time, far too many are lagging behind, failing to meet the rising consumer demand for healthy products.
70 percent of the retailers evaluated remain serious laggards, earning Ds and Fs, for failing to publicly announce basic safer chemical policies to ensure the chemical safety of their products and supply chain. Nine retailers received failing grades, eight of which received 0 out of 135 possible points.
Reducing and eliminating chemicals of concern
The report also found that, over the past three years, at least a dozen retailers achieved significant reductions or elimination of dangerous chemicals in the products they carry, far ahead of any government-imposed restrictions. Unfortunately, nearly half of the 30 retailers evaluated have not publicly reported any progress in reducing or eliminating chemicals of concern over the past three years. Many are not doing enough to ensure that suppliers avoid regrettable substitutes when they phase out chemicals of high concern in products sold at retail.
Recommendations for retailers
Based on our findings, we recommend that every major U.S. retailer should:
- Policy: Publish a written safer chemical policy, with senior management and board level engagement and accountability for suppliers, which measures and publicly reports on continuous improvement toward reducing, eliminating and safely substituting toxic chemicals in products and packaging;
- Goals and Metrics: Develop clear public goals with timelines and metrics to measure success in eliminating chemicals of concern and reducing retailers’ chemical footprint;
- Transparency: Embrace “radical transparency” to meet rising consumer demand for full public disclosure of chemical ingredients in products and packaging; safer chemicals policies; and progress made in eliminating harmful chemicals and requiring informed substitution; and
- Foresight: Anticipate being graded in the future on progress made on chemical safety in products sold at retail, whether or not your company was included in the 2016 or 2017 editions of our Who’s Minding the Store? report.
If the U.S. can develop chemicals to convert sunlight into electricity, then we can lead the world in developing safer, more effective chemicals to use in our cleaning products, electronic gadgets, clothing, buildings and food packaging. Retailers can help by incentivizing their suppliers to switch to safer alternatives.
The legal, financial and regulatory risks associated with toxic chemicals continue to grow. Retailers cannot afford to wait for government regulation to catch up with the backlog of thousands of chemicals that remain untested for safety or are already known to be hazardous to public health and the environment. Relying on self-policing by the chemical industry and product manufacturers will not satisfy the concerns of millions of consumers, who are increasingly voting with their dollars, demanding greater transparency and safer products.
It’s time for retailers to “mind the store” by requiring safer chemicals and products in order to promote healthy families and a safe environment.
Mike Schade is the Mind the Store Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. Mike Belliveau is the Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and a Senior Advisor to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.