A few weeks ago, Walmart published an important announcement on its website: the company and its suppliers have removed 37 million pounds of toxic chemicals from the products it sells!
In 2017, Walmart became the first retailer to set a goal to reduce its chemical footprint. Within five years, it has pledged to reduce the presence of “priority chemicals” in its formulated products by 10% compared to 2017. The goal applies to both private label and branded products. sold by Walmart and Sam’s Club in the United States, comprising more than 140,000 SKUs in key product categories such as cosmetics, personal care, household cleaners and formulated baby care products. Walmart’s list of “priority” chemicals comes from about twenty authoritative government chemical hazard lists which together include more than 2,700 inherently toxic chemicals.
On June 14, 2022, the company said it was working with suppliers to reduce harmful chemicals in products by 17% over three years, from its 2017 baseline through 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. This equates to an impressive reduction of 37 million pounds of hazardous chemicals.
We congratulate Walmart’s leadership and sustainability staff on this significant achievement.
Walmart’s initiative demonstrates the critically important role retailers can play in reducing the use of toxic chemicals in the products they make and sell and throughout global supply chains. We urge Walmart to build on this success, expanding the scope of its chemical footprint reduction goal and taking proactive steps to ensure priority chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives.
Summary of Walmart’s Action on Toxic Chemicals
Walmart previously reported a baseline of 215.9 million pounds of “priority” toxic chemicals found in products from these suppliers (based on 2017 data). The company reported that between fiscal years 2017 and 2020, the weight of priority chemicals in products sold at Walmart decreased 17%, from 215.9 million pounds in 2017 to 179.4 million pounds in 2020. , a reduction of 36.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals.
Reduction of the chemical footprint
The company posted the news on LinkedIn and its sustainability website, highlighting the substantial progress it has made over the past few years, which includes other interesting metrics. For example, the “weight of priority chemicals as a percentage of total weight of formulated consumables” decreased from 1.9% to 1.36%. Although this may not seem like much, it is important, especially for chemicals such as carcinogens and endocrine disruptors which can be dangerous at very low levels. Additionally, tracking the weight of priority chemicals as a proportion of the total weight of formulated consumables helps provide a more comprehensive assessment of Walmart’s progress against its chemical footprint reduction efforts, as overall sales volume varies. from one year to the next.
Additionally, Walmart announced on its LinkedIn page that it is: “We are also calling on our suppliers to take action, and collectively we are making incredible progress. Reckitt incorporates sustainable chemistry into its product design and has set a goal to reduce its chemical footprint by 65% by 2030.”
It shows how retailers like Walmart can work with big suppliers like Reckitt to reduce the use of toxic chemicals. This is important because the discounts extend beyond Walmart’s shelves to those of other retailers selling the same products, creating a greater market impact.
Five recommendations for Walmart to improve its sustainable chemistry policy to sell safer products and packaging
Now that five years have passed since the company announced its sustainable chemistry goals, it’s time for Walmart to build on its successes and expand its sustainable chemistry policy to reduce the presence of chemicals. harmful substances in its products and packaging, and ensure that substitutes are verifiable. safer. We recommend the company:
- Expand the list of product categories, priority chemicals and narrow the classes of chemicals of very high concern: Walmart is expected to expand its targets for addressing harmful chemicals in other chemical-intensive product categories, such as textiles, food packaging and electronics. Walmart should continue to update its list of priority chemicals, first assessing whether other credible and authoritative government hazard lists should be added. In addition, it should expand it to include major chemical classes of very high concern, such as perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs), bisphenols, alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), and orthophthalates.
- Reduce its chemical footprint by 50% in 5 years: We urge Walmart to set even more ambitious chemical footprint reduction goals in the coming year. He has already demonstrated that he can make significant progress. She should now aim even higher. We recommend that Walmart set a goal of reducing its chemical footprint by 50% over the next five years and require suppliers to assess the hazards of alternatives to priority chemicals to avoid regrettable substitutes. The company must continue to make progress in eliminating existing priority chemicals in its formulated products, building on the work of its suppliers like Reckitt.
- Main chemicals, plastics and product categories to prioritize: At a minimum, Walmart should set aggressive time-bound goals to eliminate PFAS in textiles and food packagingtoxic flame retardants in electronic, and the toxic chemicals of the environmentally conscious beauty products (BPEJC) it markets. He must also set goals to reduce and eliminate plastics of environmental health concern (PEHC) both in products and packaging and expands its goal to eliminate PVC and polystyrene in packaging from all suppliers, not just private label.
- Require suppliers to ensure that substitutes are safe: We urge Walmart to ensure that substitutes are verifiably safer. Without evaluation of all chemical ingredients, Walmart will not know if equally bad or worse substitutes are being used by suppliers. For example, after Walmart and other retailers banned methylene chloride and NMP in paint stripping products, some suppliers released substitutes containing other dangerous chemicals. When replacing priority chemicals, Walmart should require suppliers to perform chemical risk assessments of alternatives using a tool such as GreenScreen to ensure alternatives are demonstrably safer and meet criteria. of GreenScreen Benchmark 2 or higher. Walmart should align with Washington State’s approach, which has recently published regulatory decisions on four classes of chemicals in ten product categories after identifying safer alternatives.
- Require suppliers to meet certain third-party hazard-based standards: Along with its goal of reducing the chemical footprint, Walmart should set goals to certify products to meet credible risk-based third-party standards, such as EPA Safer Choice and GreenScreen Certified. We welcome the recent development of Walmart’s private label household product line, Our Promise, which is certified by Safer Choice. However, the company had previously announced from 2019 that it would annually measure the number of suppliers with credible certifications and the number of products certified to one of these standards. So far, it has yet to disclose such measures. We urge Walmart to uphold this essential commitment.
By continuing to address toxic chemicals in its supply chain, Walmart can mitigate and address the growing regulatory, reputational, legal and financial risks associated with toxic chemicals, and meet growing consumer demand for products. and safe and healthy packaging.
More retailers to join Walmart
Over the past six years, since we started comparing Walmart and other retailers, Walmart has always scored number one retailers in our annual report Retailer Report Card. Once again, their progress should serve as a model and inspiration for competing brands.
Just as companies measure and reduce their carbon footprint, it is critically important that they measure and reduce their chemical footprint, that is, the use of toxic chemicals in products and packaging. Toxic chemicals are largely unregulated in products and packaging and result in considerable human and environmental exposure during their production, use and disposal.
A major challenge for retailers to measure their chemical footprint is having access to the chemical composition of the products they sell. Walmart has worked with its suppliers and a third-party platform to create a database for this purpose.
Other retailers could use this same model to measure and track their chemical footprint. For formulated products, in particular, many competing retailers already use the same or similar databases for regulatory compliance. We strongly encourage these retailers to build on the work of Walmart and its suppliers to use information already existing in databases to measure, and then work to reduce, their chemical footprints.
The question now is: will others join them in setting public, quantifiable goals to reduce their chemical footprint?
And will Walmart take the next step to set even bolder goals?
We can’t wait to see.