How to Keep Toxic Chemicals Off Your Holiday Shopping List

Mind the Store

If you’re like most Americans, you will soon be spending hours shopping for holiday presents. But no matter how well you plan your shopping list, you will have a hard time finding out which toxic chemicals may be lurking in the products you’re buying.

Fortunately, a handy new Retail Report Card shows holiday shoppers which retailers are taking steps to disclose and remove the toxic chemicals from the products they sell, and which ones don’t seem to think this is a priority.  

Federal agencies do not require manufacturers or retailers to disclose toxic chemicals that are widespread in many consumer products—including chemicals that cause cancer, disrupt your immune system, are linked to infertility or damage your child’s brain development.

This holds true not only for durable goods but even for the food and drinks we ingest, the toys our infants and pets chew on, and the personal care products we rub on our skin.

Worse, even products directly marketed to sensitive populations like pregnant mothers or young children aren’t required to have a label listing the toxic chemicals hiding inside.  A recent exception to this unfortunate rule is the recent law enacted in California that will for the first time require disclosure of ingredients in cleaning products.

Sure, some companies will voluntarily disclose that a single item, such as a water bottle, is free of a single chemical like BPA. But with hundreds of toxic chemicals commonly used in manufacturing, how can a consumer know whether a product contains dozens of other risky chemicals?

Luckily, thanks to the Retail Report Card just released by the Mind the Store coalition, consumers can find out what their favorite retailers are doing to protect their customers from toxic chemicals—and what they’re failing to do. The report finds that some major national retailers are taking significant actions to protect the public, while others show much less progress and are falling behind their competitors. The 2017 Retail Report Card ranks thirty major retailers across 14 measures, so you are likely to find some interesting revelations about your favorite merchants.

Specifically, our coalition engages directly with retailers to urge them to develop an overall policy covering the toxic chemicals in the products they sell. The campaign then urges them to disclose the toxic chemicals in products they sell and to phase out dangerous chemicals entirely from consumer products, often beginning with food, health and beauty items and products marketed for use by pregnant women, babies and young children.

Mind the Store

Unfortunately, Congress plans to slash EPA’s budget, the chemical industry has taken over the EPA’s Toxics Office, and the FDA allows phthalates, BPA, mercury and other risky chemicals to contaminate our food supply. But market campaigns like Mind the Store offer NRDC members a way to bring public pressure directly to retailers to convince them to get toxic chemicals out of the consumer products we rely on daily.

That’s why NRDC has been a part of the Mind the Store coalition that produced this report card, working closely with groups including Toxic Free Future, the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the Ecology Center.

And this public pressure is paying off. In this year alone, seven major retailers—Albertsons, Best Buy, Costco, CVS Health, The Home Depot, Target, and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.—released new safer chemicals policies or initiatives. Many companies like Apple, Walmart and Target are responding to rising consumer demand for more products without toxic chemicals. However, others like Babies R Us are falling far behind their competitors.

For example, CVS announced plans to remove chemicals including phthalates and parabens from almost 600 store brand beauty and personal care products. Home Depot declared that it will require its suppliers to eliminate certain harmful chemicals from building materials such as paints, carpet and flooring. And Walmart announced ambitious plans to restrict more than 2,700 harmful chemicals that are found in 90,000 household products. At a time when Americans cannot count on the federal government to protect them from toxic chemicals, these announcements by major retailers represent real progress toward a safer future for consumers.

But we need to continue this momentum. We need to make sure companies know that consumers are watching—by thanking the leaders for the steps they’ve taken and challenging the laggards to start taking toxic chemicals seriously. Click here to see the rankings of individual companies and to send an email to their CEOs urging them to follow our coalition’s recommendations.

If we keep up the pressure from informed consumers, we’ll have many more toxic-free consumer products available for your holiday shopping list next year.

And we’ll have fewer retailers that are naughty and more that are nice.

About the Authors

Tom Hucker

Safer Chemicals Advocate, Health & Environment program

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