Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced on Thursday a new initiative to eliminate certain chemicals of concern in cosmetics and household products. The company will also expand ingredient disclosure and begin to label its own brand of cleaning products using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Design for Environment (DfE) guidelines.
Under its “Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables,” [PDF] Walmart will work with suppliers to phase out an initial list of ten “priority” substances. Walmart will not disclose the list of substances until it has further discussed the new policy with suppliers, said the company’s senior vice president for sustainability, Andrea Thomas. However, Thomas said the list was developed with input from suppliers, academics, nonprofits, and the EPA, and that the chemicals were chosen based on their use in products, potential impact, and the availability of viable alternatives. In order to ensure that any replacement chemicals comply with established “green chemistry” requirements, Walmart is requiring its suppliers to use a tool called GreenWERCS, which Walmart developed with the help of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other public health groups in 2009.
Beginning in 2014, Walmart will start monitoring progress of its new policy, and will also begin to identify some its private brand cleaning products for inclusion in the DfE labeling program. Beginning in 2015, the policy will require suppliers to provide public online ingredient disclosure for products in the categories covered. By 2018, any products still containing “priority” chemicals on Walmart’s list—which will be regularly reviewed to see if additional chemicals should be prioritized—will have to disclose these ingredients on package labels.
Consumer and environmental health advocates welcomed the initiative, which many said was the first chemical policy of this scope by a global retailer. Over the past several years, major Walmart suppliers like SC Johnson, Johnson and Johnson and Procter & Gamble have taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals. However, as the world’s largest retailer, Walmart’s policy has the most significant potential to encourage large companies to use safer chemicals in their products.