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Walmart releases high priority chemical list

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US giant retailer Walmart has revealed a list of eight “high priority chemicals (HPCs)” that it has been targeting to phase out from products on its shelves.

The announcement comes three months after Walmart reported that it had achieved a 95% by weight reduction of these HPCs, from certain products sold in US locations.

The HPCs were selected from Walmart's broader list of priority chemicals, and were identified by such criteria as listing status on authoritative hazard lists, high volume of use and exposure, and consideration of emerging regulations and stakeholder concern.

The HPCs, identified for suppliers to phase out, are:

  • toluene;
  • dibutyl phthalate (DBP);
  • diethyl phthalate (DEP);
  • nonylphenol exthoxylates (NPEs, encompassing nine individual Cas numbers);
  • formaldehyde;
  • butylparaben;
  • propylparaben; and
  • triclosan (except when present as an active ingredient providing therapeutic benefit, and approved by the FDA New Drug Application process).

In addition to revealing the eight chemicals, Walmart disclosed chemical volume reduction figures and details around ingredient transparency efforts.

Walmart launched its policy on sustainable chemistry in consumables in 2013. It seeks to reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals of concern from personal care, paper, cleaning, pet and baby products it sells, covering approximately 90,000 individual products from 700 suppliers.

Zach Freeze, Walmart director of sustainability, told Chemical Watch that the company initially elected to withhold the identity of the HPCs in order to give suppliers time to reformulate products. But he said that with suppliers having made “such significant progress”, the company decided to increase transparency to recognise those efforts.

The company is “very proud” of the progress its suppliers and products have made, he added.

Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Michelle Mauthe Harvey says: “Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive over 11,500 tons – 23m pounds – of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months.”

The NGO has worked closely with the company to develop and implement its chemicals management plan.

Work remains

The company's recently released data show that 15% of products, covered by its programme, still contain HPCs. And 39% of suppliers are still using substances from the list.

Additionally, more than two thirds of covered products contain priority chemicals, and some 80% of suppliers covered by the policy still use listed chemicals.

Ms Harvey acknowledges that more work remains to be done, but that Walmart deserves credit for its accomplishments.

“The business case can be thin to none,” says Ms Harvey. “When you talk about chemicals, people’s eyes glaze over – or they panic. Few-to-no marketing wins exist here.”

She tells Chemical Watch that to maintain its momentum, Walmart should “keep up the pressure to meet its current commitments, expand into more product categories, and take this effort global.” The NGO also hopes that the company will:

  • meet its commitments to expand products certified under Safer Choice;
  • offer “more meaningful” ingredient disclosure;
  • fully eliminate HPCs, through sharing supplier success stories and working across the supply chain to identify issues hindering their widespread elimination; and
  • strengthen monitoring to ensure hazardous ingredients are not replaced with “regrettable substitutions”.

“Publicising the journey is also important,” adds Ms Harvey. “We need Walmart’s leadership on chemicals to continue to resonate with the public and provide an incentive for other retailers to follow Walmart’s lead.”

The company says that it will continue to encourage and work with suppliers to disclose ingredients in all the markets, where they operate – beyond just the US – “as we believe everyone should have access to information about their products,” it says.

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