Albertsons, headquartered in Boise, Idaho, is the second largest grocery chain in the US, with over 2,200 stores and U.S. retail sales of $57.5 billion—the 10th highest, nationally.[1a,b] In 2015 Albertsons and Safeway merged, and the combined company owns ACME Markets, Carr’s, Jewel-Osco, Pavilions, Randalls, Safeway, Shaw’s, Star Market, Tom Thumb, United Supermarkets, and Vons, which sell food items, general merchandise, and contain a variety of specialty departments, such as bakery, delicatessen, floral, seafood, and pharmacy.

With great market power comes great responsibility.

Many consumer products contain chemicals that have been linked with chronic diseases and health conditions, including cancer, reduced fertility, learning and developmental disabilities, behavioral problems, obesity, and diabetes. For example, exposure to chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have raised concerns from scientists about hormone disruption and asthma in humans.[2]

We appreciate the efforts Albertsons and their subsidiaries have already taken to reduce some of these negative environmental and public health impacts and to improve sustainability across their supply chain. For example, we applaud the efforts Safeway has made to eliminate several thousand pounds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from packaging and to phase out BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups, register paper, and other products.

While these are great steps towards eliminating dangerous chemicals from the market place, there is still much more to do!

In the recent Buyer Beware report, we found 50% of Albertsons store brand products sampled (8 out of 16 from Albertsons, Randalls, and Safeway) tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins. When the Mind The Store campaign began in 2013, we requested that Safeway develop a comprehensive plan to address Hazardous 100+ chemicals in the products it sells. Three years later, the company (now Albertsons) has yet to take meaningful action for a comprehensive chemical policy.

We are calling on Albertsons to work with suppliers to reduce, eliminate, or safely substitute bisphenol A (BPA) and the Hazardous 100+ chemicals.


What is Albertsons doing to get tough on toxics?

Internal policy on chemicals?

The Albertsons website does not contain an explicit chemicals policy or any goals to restrict the use of hazardous chemicals in the products they sell. However, the company has taken action to remove some harmful chemicals from its private label products, and its guidelines for store brand suppliers contain some laudable recommendations (see below).

Private-label products

“BrightGreen” is Safeway’s private-label (store brand) green product line, certified by a third party, which includes elemental chlorine-free paper products and “green” household cleaners that use “naturally derived and biodegradable ingredients,” and are phosphate-free and petroleum-free.[3]

Compliance Initiative

In 2011, Safeway began requiring manufacturers to register all “chemical-containing products” through WERCSmart, a third party database, to facilitate compliance with handling and disposal requirements. “Chemical-containing products” are limited to chemical powders, gels, pastes or liquids; aerosols; pesticides; and over-the-counter drugs and supplements.[4]

Action on BPA – more progress is needed

The company has taken steps to reduce the use of BPA in various food contact materials, but from our recent Buyer Beware report, more progress is clearly needed.

To the company’s credit, in the fall of 2015, Albertsons responded to a letter from the Mind the Store campaign and said:

“The Company’s principal objective has been to find ways to limit the presence of BPA in several areas. For example, our immediate priority was to remove BPA from products that commonly are used by small children, including baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers and utensils. Several years ago, we notified our suppliers that we would no longer accept products such as these. That transition happened in all stores, not just those where specific BPA-free packaging is mandated by law.

Albertsons Companies has been working with our Own Brand product suppliers to identify acceptable alternatives to packaging containing BPA. It is our desire as a company to use BPA- free packaging for as many products as possible. We expect to make the transition on an ongoing basis as new options become commercially available. In the meantime, using alternatives that are currently available, we have made notable packaging and product changes. In addition to those changes noted to the above children’s products, we have eliminated the use of register paper containing BPA. We now utilize alternative packaging including aseptic pour cartons on some products, including O Organics soups.” [5]

PVC in Packaging

The company’s “Supplier Sustainability Guidelines and Expectations” for store brands states that “Suppliers are encouraged to provide packaging that… eliminates materials that contain or contribute to dioxins, furans, suspected endocrine disruptors or toxic heavy metals… This includes but is not limited to, paper products that are bleached or are processed with chlorine, products that use polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thermal paper, metal and bi-metal food and beverage containers which contain BPA.

In 2010, the company eliminated 272,000 pounds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from packaging, replacing it with recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) material.[7]

Styrene

The company’s “Supplier Sustainability Guidelines and Expectations” for store brands states that “Suppliers are encouraged to provide packaging that… minimizes or eliminates the use of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) including 
Oriented Polystyrene (OPS) material.” (see reference 5 below)

In 2011, by switching to a recyclable, compostable fiber mushroom tray, Safeway eliminated 370,000 pounds of expanded polystyrene to landfills.[8]

Toxic cleaning chemicals – guidelines and worker concerns

Albertsons “Supplier Sustainability Guidelines and Expectations” state that “suppliers are encouraged to… Provide cleaning products that do not contain ingredients that are known carcinogens, mutagens, or teratogens.

In 2011, janitors who clean Safeway supermarkets received national attention by alleging that there were toxic chemicals in cleaners used by Safeway’s janitorial services contractors.[9] Workers cited health and safety concerns about the harsh chemicals they were required to use on the job, and called for a transition to green cleaning products, as part of their contract negotiations. Safeway’s contractors did not accept the proposed “Green Cleaning” standards, but did agree to provide unions with information about the health effects associated with cleaning products used by the janitors.[10]

Sources:

[1a] National Retailers Federation, 2012. “2012 Top 100 Retailers.”

[1b] Forbes, 2015. “America’s Largest Companies: Albertsons.”

[2] Robin E. Dodson et al., 2012. “Hormone Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer ProductsEnviron Health Perspectives

[3] Safeway, 2013. “Bright Green Cleaning.”

[4] Safeway, 2011. “Letter to Suppliers

[5] Albertsons, 2015. “October 2015 letter to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.”

[6] Albertsons Safeway. 2015. “Supplier Sustainability Guidelines and Expectations.”

[7] Safeway, 2010. “2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Summary Report.”

[8] Safeway, 2011. “2011 Corporate Social Responsibilty Report.”

[9] Bloomerg, 2010. “Dozens of Janitors at Northern California Safeway Supermarkets.” Supermarket News, 2011. “Safeway Janitors Get Wage Hikes in New Contract.”

[10] Ibid.