Online retail giant Amazon has announced a chemicals management policy which includes its first restricted substance list (RSL) and plans for new transparency efforts.
The policy, made public on Amazon’s responsible sourcing page, states that part of the company’s commitment to quality is avoiding chemicals of concern in products. It defines these as chemicals that meet CMR criteria, or that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT).
"We strategically prioritise which chemicals of concern to focus on based on product type, customer concerns, and the availability of safer alternatives," it adds.
News of the approach comes nearly two years after Amazon ranked poorly in a 2016 ‘retailer report card’ by a US NGO campaign.
The company – one of the world’s largest retailers – signalled last year that it would become the first solely e-commerce business to develop a chemical policy. But as Chemical Watch reported earlier this year, its online sales model presents challenges for getting its third-party sellers to conform.
As part of the policy, the company has introduced an RSL that identifies 54 chemicals it is seeking to avoid in Amazon-owned private brand baby, household cleaning, personal care and beauty products sold in the US. It aims to expand the product categories, brands and geographies covered over time, it says.
The RSL was developed based on science and customer feedback, says Amazon, and will be reviewed and updated periodically. It focuses in particular on:
- nonylphenol (NP) and nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) surfactants;
- formaldehyde-releasing preservatives; as well as
- toluene and triclosan.
Amazon says that it began its reformulation efforts with its own brand products because it has "the most control over how these products are developed".
But according to the company, the RSL represents "a baseline list of chemicals of concern that all brands should work to phase out and eliminate".
And more broadly, the company’s policy encourages manufacturers to "phase out potentially hazardous chemistries and adopt green chemistry alternatives," such as those identified in the US EPA’s Safer Chemicals Ingredients List (Scil).
With regards to transparency, the policy sets a goal of making health and sustainability data "as easy for customers to access and interpret as price and customer reviews" for products.
To further this aim, the company says, in 2019 it will "work to achieve fuller ingredient disclosure" for its own brands.
And it is looking to add website features to make it easier for customers to access information about product ingredients and third-party certifications, such as Safer Choice, Made Safe, Green Seal and Cradle to Cradle.
"We hope that making this information more readily available for customers will encourage additional brands to move away from potentially hazardous chemistries in their products and adopt safer chemistries," it adds.
Mike Schade, director of the Mind the Store campaign at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, applauded Amazon for "taking its first step" toward managing potentially harmful substances in products.
Of note, he said, is that Amazon’s RSL aligns well with substances being restricted by retailers like Target, CVS Health and Rite Aid: "It is valuable for retailers to send similar market signals on chemicals of concern they are challenging suppliers to eliminate."
But the NGO pressed the company to expands its efforts to address other substances and product types, such as flame retardants in electronics, and PFASs in clothing and food packaging.
Mind the Store added that Amazon should expand its efforts beyond a "relatively limited array" of private brand products, to address such "low-hanging fruit" as banning the sale of paint strippers containing methylene chloride and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), as other retailers have done.
Both NGOs have also called for clear timeframes, goals and metrics to ensure the policy is working.
"As one of the biggest retailers in the world, Amazon has the power to lead on eliminating toxic chemicals in its products," said Ms Sager-Rosenthal. "Hopefully this new chemical policy is a start, but not the end, of Amazon’s efforts to protect the health of consumers and the environment."
"We hope their new policy signals a real commitment to getting tough on toxic chemicals, and look forward to its implementation and expansion in the year ahead," added Mr Schade.