Getting toxics out of household products

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

Walmart customer shopping for products

Photo: Walmart

Choices made by the world’s biggest retailer — Walmart — have a huge impact on the environment.

That’s why, starting in 2006, we partnered with the company to help reduce its environmental footprint. 

And now, Walmart is leading the pack of retailers in eliminating hazardous chemicals from household products. In September 2013 the retailer announced a new chemicals policy for suppliers that calls for expanded ingredient disclosure and targeting about 10 chemicals of concern for substitution with safer ingredients.

Walmart also plans to rigorously screen its own private brands of consumables, which are the non-food products that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body, or use in or around your home or car.

Weak federal law allows toxics on shelves

Why partner with private companies? Current U.S. law on chemicals is so ineffective that the vast majority of the roughly 80,000 chemicals available for use have never been tested for their potential threat to people or the planet.

In fact, the Toxic Substances Control Act is so weak that the Environmental Protection Agency could not even ban asbestos, a known human carcinogen. Congress had to do the job instead.

Some chemicals of concern are long-lasting toxic substances that accumulate in the human body or the environment. Others are endocrine disrupters — chemicals that in minute amounts mimic human hormones and disrupt the body’s normal functioning.

Despite their risk to human health, these chemicals are found in many products. The chemical diethyl phthalate — a suspected endocrine disrupter — appears in products like air fresheners, bubble bath, and body lotion. Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, appears in detergents, home cleaners, and shampoo.

EDF is pushing for reform to ensure that the toxic chemicals law is updated. In the meantime, however, our partnership with Walmart presented us with a key opportunity to change the way the retailers deal with chemicals in consumer products.

Positive steps forward

Major work got underway in 2009 when Walmart and EDF announced the creation of GreenWERCS, a software tool that assesses the chemical ingredients of household cleaners, personal care products and other chemical-based items on its shelves. 

Fast forward a few years, and this program is now being used to help Walmart look for substitutions. Their new policy will impact close to 20 percent of consumables sold at Walmart.

In the coming months and years, EDF will closely monitor and verify the reduction of hazardous chemicals and shift to safer ingredients in products, ensuring the promise for healthier products becomes a reality. 

Forging unique partnerships is key to success

This will not be achieved overnight or by ending with this commitment by one single retailer. Industry and government are both responsible for continuously improving the safety of products we bring into our homes every day.

EDF tackles the chemical supply chain in a unique and effective way by working with lawmakers in Washington to fix federal regulations and by working on the ground with businesses to remove toxic chemicals from product supply chains in real time.

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