There are over 80,000 chemicals used in everyday products, including food and unfortunately, not all of them are safe. How is a consumer supposed to know that companies have adequate practices and policies in place for the chemicals used in their products? Every year Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families produces a Retailer Report card. This year marks the third annual report which graded both the chemical policies and practices of 40 major retailers selling products in North America.
There is good and bad news. The good news is that 72 percent of the evaluated companies in both 2017 and 2018 improved their scores by taking measures to improve the safety of their products. Four retailers received top grades for their work in protecting customers from toxic products and packaging: Apple, Target, Walmart and IKEA. These are companies that work with their suppliers to disclose and replace dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives.
Three companies are the most improved retailers this year: Walgreens, Rite Aid and Amazon. Walgreens and Rite Aid both pledged to eliminate a lengthy list of chemicals of concern in beauty, personal care and household cleaning products. Amazon pledged to encourage its suppliers of some private-brand products to restrict dangerous chemicals, marking the first safer chemical policy of an e-commerce retailer.
There are companies with average grades that are showing steady improvement. Eleven companies improved their grades from a D+ to a C+ since the first report card in 2016. Eighteen other retailers moved from a D to a D+ over the last year.
Many retailers are reducing or eliminating chemicals of high concern in consumer products. Lowe's serves as a good example. The company recently led commitments by 10 major retailers to end the sale of paint stripping products that contain the very toxic chemicals methylene chloride and NMP. Several companies have pledged to phase out phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde-donors, and nonylphenol ethoxylates from their products. More retailers are screening products against a list of dangerous chemicals.
The bad news is that almost half of the retailers scored received an F grade for not adopting even basic policies and practices. Restaurants are the worst sector in this category, but other retailers sectors such as dollar stores, department stores, beauty shops and office supplies are poor performers as well. For the first year, chain restaurants were analyzed, and the result is that they really lag behind other retailers in reducing chemical hazards. Six fast food chains were evaluated that represent 10 brands, including Burger King and McDonald's, and all earned an F grade.
Despite the mixed news, the report reveals that companies have a big role to play in protecting consumers from toxic chemicals. "Companies can prevent harm and protect public health by taking common-sense steps to phase out toxic chemicals in everyday products," Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and report co-author said in a statement.