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.  

The purpose of the EPA DfE program is to drive inherently safer chemicals and products to the marketplace. DfE accomplishes this work through two major activities: the DfE alternatives assessment partnerships and the Safer Choice program. This blog and the new labels pertain to the latter.  (To learn more about the DfE alternatives assessment work, please visit this page:  http://1.usa.gov/1EKNvxe.)

The Safer Choice program—and the alternatives assessment program for that matter—is not a regulatory program, but an entirely voluntary opportunity for chemical companies and product manufacturers to gain recognition for their leadership in chemical safety. For a product to be recognized under Safer Choice, each ingredient in the product must pass criteria that delineate those chemicals that present the least hazard within that chemical’s functional class (e.g., surfactant, colorant, solvent, etc.).

In addition, a product must meet other requirements for ingredient disclosure, packaging, and performance.  Details on the chemical and product criteria are available on the Safer Choice Standard and Criteria website.

Chemicals that have been found to meet the Safer Choice chemical criteria are listed by functional class on Safer Choice’s safer chemical ingredient list. Products that have been awarded the label can be found on the Safer Choice product website. To date, over 2,500 products have received the Safer Choice label and approximately 650 chemicals are listed. Most of the Safer Choice-recognized products to date are household and industrial cleaners, but the program intends to expand into the personal care product space.

As mentioned earlier, the Safer Choice program is rolling out a family of three new labels: the primary Safer Choice label, the Safer Choice label for institutional and industrial products, and the Safer Choice fragrance free label. Identifying fragrance-free products is of particular importance for individuals that have fragrance allergies or sensitization concerns. Indeed, many product manufactures have taken recent steps to disclose more information about the fragrances in products they sell.

All three of the new Safer Choice labels can be viewed here:  http://1.usa.gov/1NdPkq2.

So why has EPA decided to refresh its label?  According to EPA, the label redesign is intended to accomplish the following goals:

  • Better convey the scientific rigor of EPA’s product evaluation and the benefits to people and the environment with a label that is easier to display on products, materials, and in digital media
  • Increase buyers’ recognition of products bearing EPA’s Safer Product Label
  • Encourage innovation and development of safer chemicals and chemical-based products

There has indeed been criticism from both the chemical industry and the EPA Inspector General on the adequacy of the prior label for clearly communicating the scope and meaning of the label to consumers. It’s fair to say that putting “Design for the Environment” on a label doesn’t really convey that the program is focused specifically on reducing chemical hazard. The new label and tagline, “Safer Choice, Meets U.S. EPA Safer Product Standards” better communicates the chemical focus of the program.

Many shoppers seem to be unfamiliar with the DfE program, especially when compared to programs like EPA Energy Star. Hopefully the new label and recent commitments from major retailers like Walmart and Wegman’s to the Safer Choice program will increase consumer awareness of the program.  Walmart’s sustainable chemistry policy includes a commitment to strive to formulate and label its Walmart brand products under the Safer Choice program. Wegman’s has already made significant strides in getting several of its Wegman’s-brand products recognized by Safer Choice.

We certainly hope that the new labels will inspire more businesses to pursue recognition by the program, whether through chemical and production innovation or through the types of retailer leadership actions we’ve seen taken by Walmart and Wegman’s. The Safer Choice program provides an important and valuable opportunity to drive inherently safer chemicals to the market and to reward, with the credibility and backing of the federal government, those businesses that devote R&D to doing so.

You can find more information about the Safer Choice program at http://www2.epa.gov/saferchoice.

Also check out EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s blog and video announcing the new Safer Choice labels.

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