On September 12, 2013, Walmart announced a sustainable chemistry policy for its consumables and health and wellness lines of business. This policy includes several components, including (beginning in January 2015) requiring Walmart's suppliers to provide disclosure online of the ingredients of all health and wellness and consumable products sold at Walmart. Even sooner, in January 2014, Walmart will choose some of its own-brand products to sport labels compliant with the US Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling program. Additionally, Walmart has already identified a list of ten chemicals to be reduced and eventually eliminated from its stores; although not citing specific chemicals, the retail giant indicated that all ten are on the "Hazardous Hundred Plus" list created by advocacy group Mind the Store.
What is the "Hazardous Hundred Plus"? It is a list of 101 chemicals identified by multiple government agencies as posing risks to human health, plus 18 substances chemically similar to the initial 101. These chemicals have been linked to serious human health problems such as hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders. One example is triclosan, used as an antibacterial agent in items such as toothpaste and school supplies; triclosan has been shown to mimic estrogen and cause hormonal problems, as well as exacerbating allergies.
What is Design for the Environment? It is a program of the EPA that allows products to carry a special label if the chemicals in the products have been identified as the safest in their class by the EPA. ("Class" in this instance means the group of chemicals that share a function, such as colorants or surfactants.) In order to help manufacturers develop products that qualify for the DfE label, the EPA sponsors CleanGredients, an online database maintained by a non-profit agency known as GreenBlue. CleanGredients is not a certification program, but a resource intended to help manufacturers make better choices in chemical use.
Media observers note that Walmart has once before backed down from its 2006 promise to phase out 17 chemicals of concern. With so many manufacturers selling personal care items through Walmart, and so many Americans purchasing these items at the giant retailer, one hopes that the company will stand by this commitment to sustainable chemistry and provide both transparency and safer choices in the near future.