A careful analysis of retailer progress across fourteen scoring criteria revealed five major findings:
- 1: Retailers continue to drive toxic chemicals out of consumer products. Such as methylene chloride & NMP in paint strippers; phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde in beauty and personal care products; and oxybenzone in sunscreens
- 2:Top retailers continue to strengthen or adopt new chemicals policies. Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Amazon are the most improved retailers of the year; Target, Lowe’s, Costco, Kohl’s, and Sephora also reported major gains in 2018
- 3:Retailers are aligning around a common list of chemicals of concern. Several thousand chemicals are being screened and whole chemical classes phased out
- 4:Food retailers seriously lag behind others in reducing chemical hazards. Restaurant and grocery chains have been slow to announce chemicals policies and publicly address chemicals such as phthalates and PFAS in packaging and other food contact materials
- 5:Too many retailers fail to address the chemical safety of their products. Almost half the retailers evaluated lacked even the most basic public chemicals policy
1.Retailers continue to drive toxic chemicals out of consumer products.
Such as methylene chloride & NMP in paint strippers; phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde in beauty and personal care products; and oxybenzone in sunscreens
Ten retailers, led by Lowe’s, have committed to ending the sale of chemical paint strippers containing methylene chloride or N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), most by the end of 2018, at more than 25,000 stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other countries. The Mind the Store campaign urged this retail leadership to break the logjam created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it shelved a proposed rule to phase out the deadly chemicals as required by the newly reformed Toxic Substances Control Act. Soon following Lowe’s leadership were Sherwin-Williams, The Home Depot, Walmart, True Value, PPG Paints, AutoZone, Kelly-Moore Paints, Canadian Tire, and Home Hardware. The most compelling voices for retail leadership came from three families whose loved ones were killed from the use of these products. The lack of public action of EPA and W.M. Barr, the nation’s largest paint stripper manufacturer, stands in sharp contrast to this remarkable leadership of retailers. At least three paint stripper brands have recently announced new products coming to market that are free of methylene chloride and NMP, showing the power of retailers to drive the development of safer solutions.
Several retailers are phasing out phthalates, a class of hormone-disrupting chemicals largely banned in Europe but which the U.S. and Canadian governments still allow in most products. Rite Aid is on track to eliminate two phthalates from 100% of its private-label products by 2020 and recently expanded its chemicals policy to phase out nine additional phthalates in all formulated products, including national brands. The Home Depot announced this year that it will prohibit nine chemicals in household cleaning products by the end of 2022, including two phthalates. Amazon, CVS Health, Kroger, Loblaw, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart are also reducing the use of phthalates in beauty and personal care products and/or household cleaning products with the goal of elimination.
IKEA recently phased out oxybenzone (also known as benzophone-3) in surface coatings and plastics, while Whole Foods and Walgreens are driving the same toxic chemical out of sunscreens. Several retailers are working with suppliers to switch to safer alternatives to other chemicals of high concern, such as parabens, formaldehyde-donors, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), triclosan, and bisphenol A (BPA). Aldi also reported a complete elimination of alkylphenol ethoxylates (including NPEs) and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in all apparel, footwear, and household textiles. Aldi, Costco, and Target are driving chemicals of concern from clothing production through a Manufacturing Restricted Substance List from the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals program of textile brands.
2.Top retailers continue to strengthen or adopt new chemical policies.
Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Amazon are the most improved retailers of the year; Target, Lowe’s, Costco, and Sephora also reported major gains in 2018
Retailers are steadily improving their chemicals policies and practices for the products and packaging they buy and sell.
- Twenty-one out of twenty-nine retailers (72%) evaluated in 2017 and 2018 improved over the last year.
- Since 2016, eleven retailers improved their grade from a D+ to a C+.
- Since 2017, eighteen more retailers improved their grade from a D to a D+.
Three companies earned “most improved retailer” accolades, after adopting major new chemicals policies in 2018. As a result, their grades improved, as shown below along with each retailer’s overall ranking (in points) among all forty retailers evaluated.
- Walgreens improved its grade from a D- to a B- over the past year, ranking #8. Walgreens’s policy sets a goal of eliminating chemicals on its Restricted Substances List (RSL), mostly from its own brand of baby, beauty, personal care, and household cleaning products, by 2021.
- Rite-Aid rose from a grade of D+ last year to a B+, ranking #7. Rite Aid expanded its RSL to sixty-nine chemicals of high concern that must be phased out from products made by national brands. The company has also committed to restrict a large list of more than two thousand individual chemicals in both private-label and national- brand beauty and personal care products.
- Amazon improved its grade from an F in 2016 to a C this year, rising to #14. The fast-growing e-commerce retail leader rolled out its very first chemicals policy in 2018. It includes an RSL of 54 chemicals of concern to avoid in its private-brand products, including baby, beauty, personal care, and household cleaning. But the Amazon policy lacks quantifiable goals and doesn’t apply to other brands, third-party sales, or packaging.
Other retailers also reported significant gains. Target (#2) turned in a grade A performance by expanding its policy and reporting specific reductions, leapfrogging Walmart (#3) for retail leadership. Lowe’s (#19), whose chemicals policy is still under development, scored extra points for being the first retailer to phase out deadly paint stripping chemicals.
Costco (#12) made a number of improvements to its chemicals management policy including new Restricted Substance Lists for textiles and non-foods packaging, climbing to a C grade. Department store leader Kohl’s (#21) climbed up from an F grade last year by adopting a chemicals policy that applies an undisclosed RSL mostly to its own-brand products. Sephora (#15), the beauty product leader, launched a new program to feature products free of chemicals of concern for an improved C grade.
3.Retailers are aligning around a common list of chemicals of concern.
Several thousand chemicals are being screened and whole chemical classes phased out
Increasingly, major retailers are anchoring their chemicals policies with a commonsense approach that continually seeks to transition products and packaging to less hazardous ingredients. Central to that strategy is reliance on a “list of lists” of chemicals known to have inherently hazardous properties, derived from authoritative science-based sources.
For example, Rite Aid will encourage its suppliers to avoid chemicals of concern included on the authoritative lists referenced by the Beauty and Personal Care (BPC) “stewardship list.” Walgreens has committed to monitoring the same list of chemicals in its beauty and personal care products over time. The authoritative lists that make up the “stewardship list” includes thousands of carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, endocrine disrupters and other hazardous chemicals derived from six lists developed by authoritative government agencies in California, United States, Europe, and other regions. The BPC initiative was catalyzed by Walmart and Target, which brought together beauty and personal care industry stakeholders to align around a common sustainability framework, known as the BPC Product Sustainability Rating System, that emphasizes ingredient disclosure and human health.
Increasingly retailers are also taking a class-based approach to chemical safety by phasing out entire groups of closely related chemicals, rather than waiting years for hazard data gaps to be filled on a chemical-by-chemical basis. In the past, similar chemicals have been substituted for one hazardous chemical, only to be found later to pose similar hazards, resulting in costly repeated reformulations and extended health hazards for consumers.
Early pioneers of this cost-effective approach for avoiding classes of chemicals of concern include Apple (#1), which phased out all halogenated compounds in its computers, and IKEA (#4), which ended all use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in textiles. More recently, several retail leaders have committed to exiting the use of several classes of chemicals, including all ortho-phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde-donors, and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in a variety of consumer products. CVS Health (#6), for example, reports that so far more than 300 beauty and personal care products have been reformulated without 11 phthalates, 19 parabens, or formaldehyde (including 11 donor compounds that release formaldehyde over time).
Retailers are also increasingly urging suppliers to avoid regrettable substitution by specifying chemicals on the Safer Chemical Ingredients List from EPA’s Safer Choice program, for example.
4.Food retailers seriously lag behind others in reducing chemical hazards.
Restaurant and grocery chains have been slow to announce chemicals policies and publicly address chemicals such as phthalates and PFAS in packaging and other food contact materials
Food retailers are largely failing to adequately protect consumers from chemical hazards associated with packaging and other food contact materials. By food retailers, we mean those companies that sell groceries (including both grocery chains as well as big box retailers) as well as restaurant chains that sell prepared meals (including all the subsectors: fast food, fast casual food, family dining, coffee shops, sandwich shops, etc.).
The average grade for the six restaurant chains evaluated, a new retail sector scored in this year’s report card for the first time, was a resounding F for failure. Only Panera Bread (#28), the fast casual food leader, scored any points at all for having an (undisclosed) restricted substances list for packaging and beginning to work on phasing out PFAS in all of its packaging. Other restaurant chains failed to score any points at all or even respond to their draft grades including fast food leader McDonalds and its competitors Restaurant Brands International (Burger King, Popeyes, Tim Hortons) and Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut), coffee leader Starbucks, and sandwich king Subway.[i]
Grocery chains fared somewhat better, with the nine retailers evaluated (not including the big box grocery sellers) scoring an average grade of D+. However, the strongest leadership in the grocery sector from Whole Foods (#5, B+) and new entries Aldi (#9, B-) and Loblaw (#13, C) results almost entirely from progress they have made in restricting chemicals in personal care products, not from food packaging and other food contact materials. The one bright spot is really yesterday’s story – grocery chains like Albertsons (#16) and Kroger (#20) have successfully phased out most uses of bisphenol A (BPA) in the linings of their private-brand canned foods, capping an industry trend over the decade.
Earlier this year, the Mind the Store campaign and allies sent a letter alerting more than 75 of the largest food retailers to the hazards associated with phthalates and the highly fluorinated chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and to opportunities to eliminate those chemicals from food contact materials. These toxic chemicals migrate from food packaging, during food preparation (such as from disposable gloves), and upstream in the supply chain during food processing with plastics, rubber, and other food contact materials. We are what we eat, it’s said, and consumer concern about industrial chemicals in food continues to rapidly grow.
5.Too many retailers fail to address the chemical safety of their products.
Almost half the retailers evaluated lacked even the most basic public chemicals policy
Nineteen of forty major retailers received a grade of F for failure to announce policies or publicly report progress to assess, reduce or eliminate chemicals of concern in the products or packaging they sell. These retailers serve consumers at tens of thousands of stores in the U.S. and Canada. Yet they have little or no discernible public commitment to the chemical safety of the products and packaging they sell.
Twelve of these retailers scored zero points out of a possible 135. Among the companies evaluated, the worst retail performers on chemical safety included these brands:
- 5 restaurant companies representing 9 brands: Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Popeyes, Taco Bell, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Subway
- 2 discount chains: Dollar General and 99 Cents Only
- 2 grocery chains: Publix and Sobeys
- 1 beauty retailer: Sally Beauty
- 1 home improvement chain: Ace Hardware
- 1 apparel and home fashions retailer representing several brands including: T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Sierra Trading Post and others
Several retail sectors lag behind others in chemical safety policies and practices. The worst performing retail sectors included:
- Restaurants: F grade average for 6 retailers
- Department Stores: F grade average for 4 retailers
- Dollar Stores: F grade average for 3 retailers
- Beauty Shops: D- grade average for 3 retailers
- Office Supplies: D- grade average for 2 retailers
With retailers on the front lines of consumer discontent with product safety, much work remains to ensure that unnecessary toxic chemicals are no longer used to make the products and packaging we buy for our families.
[i] While we evaluated restaurants on the same basic elements of chemicals policy as other retailers, we limited our review to chemicals used in food contact materials such as packaging, disposable gloves, and upstream sources in the supply chain, with an emphasis on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), bisphenol A (BPA), and ortho-phthalates.