Largest-ever analysis finds dramatic improvements among retailers between 2016 and 2019
In major consumer health win, retailers phasing out PFAS, the ‘forever chemicals,’ in products and food packaging
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report reveals that many of North America’s largest retail companies are embracing chemical safety policies to help protect consumers from toxic chemicals in products. In the largest-ever analysis of its kind, 63% of evaluated companies improved over the past year alone. The study also found dramatic improvement in retailer chemical action between 2016 to 2019, with the average grade moving from D+ to B- (for the eleven retailers evaluated since 2016). This consumer protection progress comes at a time when the Trump Administration has weakened or delayed action on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses.
The fourth annual Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals evaluated and graded the chemical policies and practices of 43 retail chains with more than 190,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, as part of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.
“Our federal government has failed to act on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses,” explains report co-author Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “In light of this growing regulatory void, major retailers are stepping up to safeguard our health. This is helping to bring healthier products into the hands of consumers across North America and drive the development of safer chemicals and green chemistry solutions.”
For the first time ever, major retail grocers and restaurants are focused on eliminating classes of toxic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ortho-phthalates and bisphenols from food packaging materials, which have been found to be a source of exposure to harmful contaminants. These actions respond to growing consumer concern about food safety and toxic chemicals.
“A growing body of scientific evidence has shown health hazards from exposure to chemicals such as phthalates, PFAS, and flame retardants. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is of particular concern. The fact that so many companies have improved their chemical policies over the last year is thus inspiring and hopefully will be a strong impetus for others to act,” said Dr. Robin M. Whyatt, Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University.
The eleven retailers who have been graded in every year’s report card dramatically improved their average grade from a D+ in 2016, the first year of the report card, to a B- this year. Most of these companies have made substantive, measurable progress toward chemical safety improvements over the past four years. The average grade earned by all forty-three retailers evaluated was a C-. This is a gain from last year’s D+ average, but also reveals room for improvement.
For the second year in a row, four retailers lead the pack by receiving the highest grades for their work to protect customers from toxic products and packaging: Apple (A+), Target (A), Walmart (A) and IKEA (A-).
Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of Environmental Health Strategy Center and report co-author said, “We applaud retail market leaders for protecting public health and the environment while our federal government refuses to act. Eliminating toxic chemicals – like PFAS and phthalates – from food packaging meets growing customer demand for greater food safety.”
The most improved companies are Ahold Delhaize, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dollar General, Lowe’s, Panera Bread, Sephora, and Staples. The report reveals for the first time Dollar General has launched a new safer chemicals policy banning eight toxic chemicals in private-label beauty, personal care, and household cleaning products over the next three years. In the two months leading up to the release of the report, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ahold Delhaize, and Staples also made notable, new chemical safety commitments, including adopting new policies restricting certain toxic chemicals such as PFAS harmful to human health and the environment.
About one-third (14 out of 43) of all retailers evaluated received an F grade for failing to adopt basic public policies to address toxics in their products and packaging. In 2018, about half of the cohort received F scores. Nine retailers failed to score a single point in 2019, and eight out of those nine failed to score one point over the past two years of inclusion in the analysis. The worst performing retail sector was restaurants, with an F grade average for six retailers.
For a full list of the evaluated companies and their detailed grades, analysis of trends, recommendations, and more, visit RetailerReportCard.com.
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families leads a nationwide coalition of organizations and businesses working to safeguard American families from toxic chemicals. The group’s Mind the Store campaign challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and substitute them with safer alternatives.
Jose Bravo, Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, said, “For five years, the Campaign for Healthier Solutions has been calling on dollar stores to protect our children’s health and eliminate any toxic chemicals that may be in products and food they sell, and finally, some are beginning to listen. Dollar General’s new initial chemical policy, revealed for the first time today, is a good start, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about the progress Dollar Tree has made. Unfortunately, 99 Cents Only Stores continues to fail to publicly address toxic chemicals that can impact public health and safety. People of color and the poor rely on the food and products sold at dollar stores, so we’ll continue to encourage these stores to eliminate any toxic chemicals from their products, and do so in a transparent and publicly accountable way—because every family deserves the opportunity to make healthy choices.”
Bobbi Wilding, Director of the Getting Ready for Baby campaign, said, “It’s heartening to see marked improvement Bed Bath and Beyond and its subsidiary buybuy BABY have made to reduce harmful chemicals in baby products in this year’s Retailer Report Card. Increasing their grade from a D+ to a C+ is a great step – and parents will look forward to seeing this trend toward safer products continue in 2020.”
Sarah Doll, National Director for Safer States, said, “It is exciting to see companies follow the leadership of states like Washington and Vermont in adopting safer chemicals policies. Together, states and leading companies can help move us towards a world free of harmful chemicals.”
Muhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager of Environmental Defence, said, “As evidence piles up about the dangers of chemicals like PFAS and bisphenols, many retailers are rising to the challenge by taking steps to make products safer and more sustainable. Such change shows even more clearly that companies like Sobeys and Metro, among others, that have received failing grades don’t have an excuse to justify not taking important action to protect consumers and the environment from toxics.”
Maida P. Galvez, MD, MPH, Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, said, “Parents shouldn’t have to ask whether a product on the market is safe from harmful chemicals. Kudos to these retailers for leading the way and taking steps to prevent and reduce exposures to harmful chemicals like PFAS, phthalates and BPA in everyday goods routinely used by children and their families. This is a major step towards promoting healthy environments and healthy families across the United States.”
Roger McFadden, Senior Scientist for McFadden and Associates, LLC and science and green chemistry advisor to retailers, consumer brands, and product designers, said, “This new report highlights a growing sustainability trend and call to action for consumer brands, product designers and the chemical industry. Retailers are increasingly stepping up to drive harmful chemicals out of consumer products, packaging, and global supply chains. The Mind the Store campaign’s annual report card is helping to benchmark and incentivize retailers to establish, improve and expand their policies by driving a race to the top in the retail sector. This is helping to drive the development of green chemistry solutions and bring safer products into the hands of families across North America.”