Walmart Stepping Up to the Environmental Plate: Requiring Suppliers to Disclose and Phase Out Toxic Chemicals

Posted on Nov 12, 2013 by Sustainability

While the government’s focus is on healthcare reform, they do not regulate toxic chemicals that manufacturers put into products for human use. So Walmart is taking matters into its own hands.

On September 12, Walmart announced it will require its cosmetics and cleaning product suppliers to disclose and phase out 10 major toxic chemicals commonly found in their products, which will impact many manufacturers across many industries.

The retail giant has not yet publicly revealed the list of 10 toxic chemicals. However, it has disclosed a priority list of toxic chemicals based on the impact, the viability and availability of alternatives, and the cost-effectiveness of phasing them out. The list was developed in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund.

After developing a chemical screening tool called GreenWERCS in 2009, Walmart analyzed the products it carries. The analysis determined that nearly half of all formulated products on its shelves contained “chemicals of concern.” Moving forward, GreenWERCS will make sure that Walmart suppliers don’t replace toxic chemicals with other equally toxic chemicals.

Walmart says before publicly releasing its priority list, it wants to collaboratively work with its suppliers to ensure the toxic chemicals are phased out over the next year, during which time it will self-monitor the reduction and elimination of these chemicals in favor of more environmentally-friendly alternatives.  At the same time, Walmart will start labeling its in-house brand cleaning products with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment labeling program, which identifies cost-effective and healthy items.

Beginning in 2015, the company will require suppliers to start revealing use of toxic chemicals to customers online, and will publicly report on the progress until January 2016.

While Walmart will still carry products that contain the 10 toxic chemicals, by 2018, any remaining chemicals on the priority list will have to be disclosed on in-store packaging. Walmart is hopeful it will never have to ask suppliers to put the toxic chemical warning label on their products.

Ironically, recently there have been some similar high-profile announcements. In 2012, Johnson and Johnson announced a plan to remove triclosan, phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde from all of its personal care products globally. In 2013, Procter & Gamble Co., the world’s largest consumer product maker, announced that it will eliminate triclosan and phthalates from its cosmetic products by 2014.

Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, reproductive impairment, and even abnormal genitalia in babies. Triclosan is toxic to the skin and immune system. It is commonly used in antibacterial soaps and other items. Some studies have suggested that it could increase the risk of infertility, early puberty and other hormone-related problems. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that has been linked to cancers of the upper airways and other types. Five different types of parabens—butyl-, ethyl-, isobutyl-, methyl-, and propyl-—are highly toxic and carcinogenic. They are commonly-used preservatives that irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract, and have been linked to many allergic reactions.

While the retail giant has been viewed as a sustainable leader and an environmental criminal, I am glad it is leading a movement away from toxic chemicals in cosmetics and cleaning products.

“The objective of this policy is to help ensure that household cleaning, personal care, beauty and cosmetic products sold by Walmart will minimize hazards to people or the environment,” Walmart said in a statement.

“Walmart’s policy signals a new era of going beyond regulatory compliance to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals,” said Mark Rossi, co-director of Clean Production Action, a nonprofit organization that designs tools to help companies make their products chemically greener. “Companies like Walmart are realizing they need to be proactive instead of reactive to the rapidly increasing consumer demand for safer products.”


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