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03/31/2021

Retailers Improving Chemical Safety Programs

Study finds 65K stores have pledged to eliminate or reduce PFAS in food packaging
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Goldschmidt profile picture
Retailers Improving Chemical Safety Programs Mind the Store Food Packaging Racial Equity
Target and Rite Aid will address racial injustice and health inequity by pledging to screen beauty products sold to women of color for toxic chemicals.

A recent report from the Mind the Store campaign has found considerable chemical policy improvement among retailers, with almost 70% of companies surveyed having better chemical safety programs versus their first evaluations dating as far back as 2016.

Also according to the fifth annual study, in an unprecedented move in its history, Target and Rite Aid will address racial injustice and health inequity by pledging to screen beauty products sold to women of color for toxic chemicals. Further, 12 major retailers operating more than 65,000 stores globally have now committed to eliminate or reduce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals in food packaging.  

“We applaud retail leaders for stepping up to drive harmful chemicals out of consumer products and packaging,” noted report co-author and Mind the Store Campaign Director Mike Schade. “Despite a global pandemic and incredibly challenging year, retailers have continued to make substantial progress in reducing and eliminating classes of toxic chemicals like PFAS.” 

The study assigned six retailers high grades of A- or above. For the first time, Sephora and Whole Foods Market received A grades, joining consistent high performers Apple and Target, each with an A+, and IKEA and Walmart, each with an A-. 

This year’s analysis revealed the lowest-ever percentage of retailers to receive F scores just 12 out of 50. Those  who got failing grades were 7-Eleven, 99 Cents Only Stores, Ace Hardware, Alimentation Couche-Tarde, Metro, Nordstrom, Publix Supermarkets, Restaurant Brands International, Sally Beauty, Sobeys, Starbucks and Subway.

“There is really no excuse for these retail laggards to earn a failing grade,” said report co-author and Mike Belliveau, executive director of Portland, Maine-based Defend Our Health. “Retailers that are not properly managing chemical risks can lose the trust of their customers, lose market share to competitors, and may even risk facing significant financial and regulatory liabilities.”

In addition to Target and Rite Aid’s move to specifically screen for toxic chemicals often found in such products as skin-lightening cream and hair straighteners and relaxers, Whole Foods Market has already banned some of these chemicals, including hydroquinone, in those products as well. 

“We applaud Target and Rite Aid for taking a leadership role in pledging to screen for toxic chemicals that are often found in beauty products marketed to women, and we hope that other retailers will follow their example,” observed Taylor Morton, director of environmental health and education at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Research shows that women of color have higher levels of toxic chemicals related to beauty products in their bodies, and this is linked to higher incidences of cancer, poor infant and maternal health outcomes, learning disabilities, obesity, asthma, and other serious health concerns. Reducing exposure to toxic chemicals in beauty and other personal care products will help address this critical but often overlooked environmental justice issue that contributes to the disproportionately higher cumulative exposure to toxics in communities of color.”

Despite the progress with regard to PFAS, some major fast-food and grocery retailers, including Burger King and The Kroger Co., have not yet taken action on this issue.

Dollar stores were the most improved retail sector overall compared with last year, according to the report. Dollar Tree, whose banners include Family Dollar, went from from a D+ to a C+, while Dollar General garnered a C- grade, up from its D grade in 2019.

“We are pleased to see dollar stores starting to take seriously the need to phase out harmful chemicals from their products,” noted José T. Bravo, national coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Healthier Solutions. “Still, they have a long way to go. People of color and low-income communities are already overexposed to toxic chemicals. Especially during this pandemic, these stores should be going above and beyond to protect their employees and customers.”

“Who’s Minding the Store” evaluates and grades the chemical policies and practices of 50 retail chains covering more than 200,000 stores in the United States and Canada. The Washington, D.C.-based national Mind the Store campaign, a program of Toxic-Free Future, challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives, as well as publishing the annual retailer report card that benchmarks and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies and implementation programs. 

On Progressive Grocer’s 2020 PG 100 list of the top retailers of food and consumables, Kroger is No. 3, Target is No. 7, Alimentation Couche-Tard is No. 10, Publix is No. 12, Dollar General is No. 16, Rite Aid is No. 18, Sobeys is No. 21, 7-Eleven is No. 23, Whole Foods Market is No. 24, Metro is No. 29, Dollar Tree is No. 30, Family Dollar is No. 32 and 99 Cents Only is No. 69.