Target’s Chemicals Commitments ‘Up The Ante’ For Retail Sector

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NGOs hope other retailers will follow its example

US retailer Target's recently published chemicals policy has set the bar for the sector, say NGOs Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The policy, announced earlier this year, includes plans to phase out phthalates, NPEs, parabens, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-donors from formulated products the store sells by 2020.

This will include beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning products. It has also committed to phasing out perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and flame retardants from textiles – including clothing, carpets and upholstered furniture – by 2022. Mike Schade of the SCHF said that Target's improvements "up the ante" for the retail sector. "We hope these new commitments will help drive a race to the top among the nation's largest retailers."

Competitor Walmart

He added that the store had outpaced its competitor Walmart, in some respects, by setting clear timeframes for action on certain high priority chemicals. In 2016, Walmart announced a list of eight it is phasing out from products it sells. At the same time, he added, Walmart leads in other areas, such as developing guidance around evaluating alternatives; reporting quantifiable progress in implementing its policy; and by reducing its high priority chemicals by 95% by weight. "There are elements of each retailers' programme that are laudable," he said.

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But Schade added that there are also areas where both retailers could improve, such as by becoming signatories to the Chemical Footprint Project. Additionally they could take action on important "chemically intensive products, such as children's car seats and electronics laden with toxic flame retardants". Target's policy was also praised by president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Ken Cook, who said it was "great news for consumers" and showed the company's leadership in moving away from toxic ingredients.

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Supply chain transparency

Target has also set a goal for suppliers to disclose all chemical ingredients, including fragrances, to the store by 2020. Boma Brown-West, senior manager of consumer health at EDF, said the company had "surpassed its competitors, by committing to gain not only full visibility into the chemicals in final products but also into chemicals used in manufacturing operations". But she added that Target was "quiet regarding if and how this enhanced supply chain will translate into greater ingredient transparency to consumers".

Jennifer Silberman, chief sustainability officer at Target, said that visibility and transparency between the store and its suppliers was "first and foremost" in removing unwanted chemicals. "Ultimately, the end goal is to create safer products for our guests," she said.

Green innovation

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Brown-West praised Target's commitment to investing up to US$ 5 million in greener chemistry innovation by 2022. She said the company had shown it understands that "eliminating hazardous chemicals from the consumer product value chain is half the battle; promoting the development or discovery of safer alternatives and enabling their usability in products is as important." The investment was also welcomed by Schade, as "a positive step in the right direction". 

"Finding safer alternatives to dangerous chemicals is not always easy, and retailers investing in green chemistry research to find these can help accelerate the transition to a healthier economy," he said.     

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