Health advocates praise Walmart for its marketplace leadership in toxic chemical reductions and urge other retailers to follow
SEATTLE, WA—Walmart recently published an update to its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) website stating that, between 2017 to 2020, it achieved a 17% reduction in its footprint of “priority chemicals,” which equates to the removal of 36.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals from private-label and brand-name cosmetics, personal care, household cleaners, and formulated baby care products in the U.S. As the first major U.S. retailer to have announced a broad time-bound chemical footprint reduction goal, the 17% reduction in three years exceeds its original goal of 10% in five years.
Walmart’s update on its website states: “Based on supplier reports, our priority chemical footprint for 2020 for in-scope products sold in Walmart U.S. stores and Sam’s Clubs U.S. saw a 17% decrease over 2017, as measured by weight in pounds…We achieved this goal ahead of our target date through a combination of assortment changes, reformulation, and shifts in consumer purchases.”
The company also reported the “priority chemical weight as a percent of total formulated consumables weight” has decreased from 1.9% to 1.36%. This is notable as certain chemicals that are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors can be hazardous at very low levels.
In response, Toxic-Free Future released a blog that further explains Walmart’s progress and provides five key policy recommendations for Walmart to further improve and expand its chemicals policy. Additionally, Toxic-Free Future, Clean Production Action, and Safer States released the following statements:
“This demonstrates the power retailers have to drive toxic chemicals out of their products and throughout global supply chains,” said Mike Schade, director of Toxic-Free Future’s market transformation program, Mind the Store. “As the company prepares to adopt its next set of sustainable chemistry goals, it must set an even more ambitious chemical footprint reduction goal. We urge Walmart to set a goal to reduce its chemical footprint by 50% within the next five years and require suppliers to evaluate the hazards of alternatives to ensure substitutes are truly safer. It should continue to make progress on hazardous chemicals in formulated products and at the same time expand its goals to address other chemically intensive product categories and key classes of chemicals—like PFAS in its textiles and food packaging and toxic flame retardants in electronics. ”
“Walmart’s progress shows that the data and technology exist to calculate retailers’ chemical footprints and are already in use by many competing retailers for compliance purposes,” said Cheri Peele, senior project manager at Toxic-Free Future. “The question now is, will other retailers join Walmart in setting public, quantifiable goals to track and reduce their chemical footprints?”
“Walmart proves that companies, even the largest in the world, can track and reduce their chemical footprints,” said Dr. Mark S. Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action. “Reducing their chemical footprint by almost 40 million pounds over 3 years is a significant accomplishment for human health and the environment.”
“It’s great to see Walmart responding to state policy leadership and taking concrete steps to reduce worker and community exposures to toxic chemicals,” said Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “Walmart should continue to follow the lead of states and restrict entire classes of toxic chemicals like PFAS and organohalogen flame retardants in the packaging and products they sell.”
Background on Mind the Store
Mind the Store is Toxic-Free Future’s market transformation program. Mind the Store challenges retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. The program publishes the Retailer Report Card, which benchmarks and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies.
Retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies, according to Toxic-Free Future’s Retailer Report Card. Nearly 70% of companies surveyed in 2021 have better chemical safety programs compared to their first evaluation dating as far back as 2016. With a score of A- in the the most recent Retailer Report Card, Walmart was ranked in the top six retailers with highest grades of A- and above, which also includes Apple, IKEA, Sephora, Target, and Whole Foods. In the same analysis, 12 companies (out of 50) were found to have failing grades, which include 7-Eleven, 99 Cents Only Stores, Ace Hardware, Alimentation Couche-Tarde (Circle K, Couche-Tard), Metro, Nordstrom, Publix, Restaurant Brands International (Burger King, Tim Hortons, Popeyes), Sally Beauty, Sobeys, Starbucks, and Subway.
Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that advances the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through research, organizing, advocacy, and consumer engagement to ensure a healthier tomorrow. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is a Toxic-Free Future program dedicated to achieving strong federal policies that protect the public from toxic chemicals. Mind the Store is a Toxic-Free Future program that challenges retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives, and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies in an annual Retailer Report Card.
Safer States is an alliance of diverse environmental health organizations and coalitions from across the nation committed to building a healthier world. By harnessing place-based power, the alliance works to safeguard people and the planet from toxic chemicals and sparks innovative solutions for a more sustainable future.