Getting toxics out of household products

EDF and Walmart work together to make the retailer's products safer

When Walmart makes a decision, it can have a huge impact on the environment.

That's why, since 2005, we've partnered with the company – the world's biggest retailer – to reduce its environmental footprint. One challenge is reducing toxic chemicals in everyday products.

How do toxic chemicals get in products at all?

For 40 years, U.S. law on chemicals was so ineffective that the vast majority of the roughly 80,000 chemicals available for use have never been tested for potential threats to people or the planet.

EDF worked for years to reform the law, and now we're making sure the reforms are implemented well.

Why work with retailers on this problem?

Consumers want access to safer products and more transparency. A retailer like Walmart can move ahead of the law, pushing suppliers to update their products more quickly.

And they can also address products like cosmetics, which are covered by other laws that have yet to be reformed. (More about our strategy to leverage the supply chain.)

What did Walmart set out to do?

In 2017, Walmart updated its Sustainable Chemicals Policy. EDF worked closely with Walmart to develop a groundbreaking chemicals policy in 2013, as well as the update.

It covers household cleaning, personal care and beauty products sold at Walmart and Sam's Club stores in the United States, and includes three major commitments.

1. Improve transparency

Customers deserve to know the ingredients in the products they buy. Walmart called on suppliers to disclose all product ingredients online and on product labels.

Walmart has committed to participate annually in the Chemical Footprint Project, a benchmarking report that enables investors to compare companies’ management of chemical risks. Walmart also publishes progress against its policy annually.

2. Eliminate chemicals of concern

In its original policy, Walmart focused on reducing eight high-priority chemicals prevalent in products. Walmart now aims to reduce all chemicals of concern in consumable products by 10 percent by 2022.

To achieve this, Walmart is calling on its suppliers to share specific goals and timelines on which chemicals they will phase out first.

3. Provide safer products

Walmart recommends its suppliers – both private and national brand – utilize product certifications that emphasize safer ingredients and are applicable to their specific product categories.

These certifications – U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice, EWG Verified and Cradle to Cradle – credibly evaluate ingredient safety, are transparent about their approach and reward products for continuous improvement.

What has Walmart actually accomplished?

Suppliers have removed 23 million pounds of the original eight high-priority chemicals of concern from products – a 96 percent reduction.

Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive change at this level. With EDF's help, they set up tracking systems so they could measure their impact. And they did this all in less than 24 months.

On improving transparency to consumers, more than half of suppliers report they disclose product ingredients online for all of their products.

Still, much work remains to be done to fully meet the policy. Tackling all chemicals of concern in these products effectively will take time.

What's next?

For Walmart (and their suppliers), it's essential to keep reducing and eliminating the use of potentially harmful chemicals and fulfill the goals of the policy.

The company can also extend the policy to cover more types of products and more stores around the world.

Walmart's approach is working so far because it hits on every one of EDF's five pillars of leadership for companies moving toward safer chemicals. And that framework also suggests specific next steps for Walmart to maintain the momentum it has created.

For EDF and our supporters, it's essential to keep using both partnerships like this one and government policy to reduce exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.

For example, the new law does not cover potentially hazardous, unregulated chemicals in food – such as BPA in food cans.

We must keep demanding safer products from retailers, get stronger rules in place and strive, as Walmart is doing, to go beyond simple compliance with the law.

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