Selected category: Markets and Retail

Walmart Takes Important First Step on Disclosing Product Ingredients

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist, Alissa Sasso is a Research Consultant.

Imagine you’re standing in the shopping aisle looking for a new brand of lotion that won’t irritate your baby’s skin. You find yourself surveying at least a dozen different lotion labels trying to understand and compare product ingredients. The process is frustrating and slow, not to mention confusing—what are some of these things even used for? You’re ready to pull your hair out!

You are not alone. Inadequate access to ingredient information has long been a systemic problem. Fortunately, the situation is improving. In the past few years, more and more companies have taken action to make product information more transparent to consumers, including, importantly, the sharing of ingredients online. Walmart has recently joined the ranks of these companies.  Read more to learn what action the retailer has taken.   Read More »

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Behind the Label: the Blueprint for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace

Boma Brown-West is a manager on EDF’s Supply Chain Team within the Corporate Partnerships Program.

If you’re in the business of using chemicals to make consumer products – things like shampoo or baby lotions, spray cleaners or laundry soap – the last few years have likely been anything but dull. State legislatures have been passing laws restricting certain chemicals from products; consumers are demanding more transparency about product ingredients; and some of the nation’s biggest retailers, including Walmart and Target, have issued chemical policies of their own.

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EPA rolls out its redesigned labels under the newly minted Safer Choice Program

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Today, the EPA Design for the Environment Program (DfE) Safer Choice program (formerly, the safer product labeling program) unveiled its newly redesigned family of three product labels. The voluntary Safer Choice program seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to those products whose chemical ingredients represent the safest among those within a particular chemical functional class (e.g., solvents). Today’s milestone is the result of a public process led by the EPA DfE program to solicit feedback on a new label that better communicates the goals and purpose of the program. After more than a year, and 1,700 comments and six consumer focus groups later, the new labels will be arriving soon to a store shelf near you. Read on to learn more about the program and the label redesign effort.   Read More »

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Will 2015 be the year of full product ingredient disclosure?

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Michelle Harvey, Jennifer McPartland and Boma Brown-West contributed to this post.

[UPDATE 10/28/14:  This post has been updated to reflect information we learned since posting it, regarding additional companies' disclosure initiatives.]

We are nowhere near New Year’s Day, but based on recent corporate resolutions, 2015 is shaping up to be the year for ingredient transparency in products!  And that’s good news for those of us who want to know what we may be exposing ourselves and our families to when we use everyday products in our homes and on our bodies.

Unlike food and drugs, which must bear content labels, there has all too often been no way for consumers to know what’s in the products they use.  In particular, the composition of the myriad fragrances used in household cleaners, detergents and soaps, air fresheners, and other common household products have pretty much been a black box.  But change is on the way.   Read More »

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Putting Words Into Action: Walmart releases detailed plans to implement its chemical policy

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.  Boma Brown-West is a Manager for Consumer Health.

Today, Walmart unveiled its sustainable chemicals policy Implementation Guide. The Guide details how the company will work with suppliers to bring safer products to millions of American shoppers, as announced last September when the policy was introduced.

Walmart’s chemicals policy affects formulated consumable products – the non-food products that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body or use in and around your home or car, from health and beauty aids to baby products to pet supplies. There are three main components of the policy:  transparency through expanded ingredient disclosure; advancement of safer product formulation through the reduction, restriction, and elimination  of priority chemicals and use of safer substitution practices; and a plan to take Walmart private brand consumables through the U.S. EPA Design for Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program — a rigorous product certification program that reviews the safety of product ingredients. Walmart’s policy is audacious in that it attempts to evolve from the common restricted substance list (RSL) approach to one that actively promotes usage of safer chemicals.  The release of the Implementation Guide makes public how this is expected to happen.  Read More »

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Making regrettable substitution a thing of the past

Michelle Harvey is a Senior Project Manager in EDF's Corporate Partnership Program.

Regrettable substitution. Informed substitution.

The first sounds like a problem – and it is. The second is the way you avoid the first.

In the world of consumer products made from mixtures of chemicals – baby lotion, shampoo, cleaners, laundry soap – chemists seek ingredients that are effective and feasible. What they too often don’t also consider are the hazardous properties of the chemical and its risk to people.  This is in part because most chemists are not trained in toxicology.  Further, many of the biological interactions between us and the ingredients in everyday products we use on our bodies and in our homes are only now being understood.  As our understanding has grown, groups such as EDF have called for the removal of some of the more concerning chemical ingredients from store shelves.

But it’s not as simple as just taking a hazardous chemical out of a product.  While in some instances a chemical of concern can be simply eliminated, in many cases these chemicals perform a key function in a product and a replacement chemical is necessary.  If the replacement isn’t carefully considered for its own potentially deleterious effects, you can end up exchanging a problem for a problem – resulting in a regrettable substitution. 

The good news is that the path forward for identifying and making informed choices about substitutes has become a lot clearer. 

Today, EDF together with BizNGO, the Toxic Use Reduction Institute and the Lowell Center for Sustainability released The Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment with the support of over 100 representatives of business, universities and NGOs.  This broad consensus around simple, solutions-based principles, signals a growing commitment to moving hazardous chemicals out of the supply chain and driving informed, safer innovations. 

Alternatives assessment is a process for identifying, comparing, and selecting safer alternatives to chemicals of concern based on certain chemical features including hazard, performance, and economics.  The six “Common Principles” establish key elements of informed decision-making about the chemicals in a product.  Reduce hazard. Minimize exposure. Use best available information. Require disclosure and transparency. Resolve trade-offs. Take action.  They are “common principles” because they are shared by a broad, diverse group of individuals from academia, industry and the NGO community.

In September, Walmart became the first retailer to call for informed substitution as suppliers phase out of chemical ingredients of concern in products it sells. It is EDF’s hope that the Commons Principles will be used to meet this commitment, and inform the efforts of other retailers and product manufacturers.  Smart and informed decisions guided by the Commons Principles can make products safer and regrettable, hazardous substitutions a thing of the past.

 

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