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Costco Starting to Take Stock of Toxic Chemicals

Costco members got some welcome news this month about its “Smart Screening” program to address toxic chemicals in some of the products the company sells. According to new updates to Costco’s website, the company is now testing products such as clothing, furniture, personal care products, cleaning products, and others for certain toxic chemicals of “regulatory and social concern,” and keeping products containing other harmful chemicals off its shelves entirely.

Notable Improvements, Details of Smart Screening Program Revealed

Although Costco hasn’t yet adopted a public safer chemicals policy with goals and timelines for reducing toxic chemicals, the company deserves credit for publicly disclosing actions it’s taking to test for and reduce harmful chemicals in key product categories as part of its “Smart Screening” program. The company announced on its website that:

Over the last three years Costco has been updating the Costco Restricted Chemical List (RSL) to keep up with the ever-growing global regulatory changes and challenges for chemical restrictions in consumer products.  We continue to work with the chemical and consumer product industries to increase our understanding in this area and to find more environmentally friendly alternatives for chemicals and practices of concern…”

“Costco is working with major third-party laboratories to test certain items for chemicals of regulatory and social concern. We call it the Costco Smart Screening Program. The program’s protocols include testing for the presence of certain chemicals in a number of product categories. Each product category has its own list of chemicals of concern (COCs) and RSL…”

Children’s and adult apparel, bedding, home goods, pet beds, furniture, personal care products, cleaning products, Kirkland Signature food packaging, Kirkland Signature Baby Wipes, and Kirkland Signature Diapers are now physically tested against a list of over 300 COCs…”

Costco also says it has begun the process of partnering with an academic institution to support its efforts. These are positive steps in the right direction for Costco, which we congratulate.  This comes only a few months after Costco first began to publicly reveal some limited information about its efforts. Clearly Costco is listening to its members who have been contacting the company and now providing more information about its chemicals program!

Opportunity for Improvement: What Chemicals Are Being Evaluated and Restricted?

Retailers like Costco are responding to the growing consumer demand for safer products and consumers’ desire to support retailers that consider the health and environmental impact of their products. Wal-Mart, Target, and CVS Health have adopted safer chemical policies and soon Best Buy will too. We’re happy to see Costco announce that it is beginning to make progress in addressing toxic chemicals in the products they sell, but there is still room for improvement.

Last November, Costco received an “F” on Mind the Store’s retailer report card that rated the nation’s eleven largest retailers on their actions to develop safer chemicals policies and eliminate toxic chemicals in products they sell.  Costco’s new actions will certainly help improve its score in our next report card that we plan to update and release in November.  We hope Costco will continue to improve and expand its work on chemicals in the months to come, for example by developing a safer chemicals policy with clear goals and timeframes.

While Costco has been making some notable progress that it is now finally disclosing, we can’t fully assess what this initiative means for consumers and the marketplace without knowing the specific chemicals the company is testing for and/or restricting in its products. It is unclear for example to what extent the Smart Screening program is set up primarily to ensure its suppliers are in compliance with laws and regulations, which are unfortunately inadequate.  Retailers like Costco can go beyond legal compliance to help transform the marketplace towards safer products.

We hope Costco will respond to the rising consumer demand for transparency and make public the list of chemicals it is addressing just like CVS Health, Target, and Walmart have done already.

Once Costco does, we’ll know more about whether this is news we can truly celebrate.

You can help! Send Costco a thank you message and urge them to keep moving towards a public safer chemicals policy with goals and timelines for reducing toxic chemicals.

Laurie Valeriano is the Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future. Mike Schade is the Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.