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Retailers taking action on toxics: Target & CVS make progress, Walmart slides backward

In brief:

Target and CVS Health made progress on phasing out toxic chemicals in their products, while Walmart’s chemical footprint grew by millions of pounds. Top highlights include:

  • Target will phase out BPA, BPS, and all bisphenols from its thermal receipt paper by the end of 2020, and it made progress on PFAS in private-label clothing in 2019.
  • CVS Health phased bisphenols such as BPA and BPS out of its thermal receipt paper this year and eliminated certain toxic chemicals from private-label beauty and personal care products in 2019.
  • Walmart has a goal to reduce its “chemical footprint” by 21 million pounds by 2022, but toxic chemicals in products increased by 2.7 million pounds from 2017 to 2018.

Target’s progress on bisphenols and PFAS

Last week, Target published its new sustainability report, which quietly revealed it is phasing all bisphenols, including bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol S (BPS), out of its thermal receipt paper by the end of this year! These toxic chemicals can rub off the receipt when touched and enter your bloodstream through your skin. The company announced:

“Later this year, Target will transition to phenol-free receipt paper for our stores…By end of year 2020, Target expects to fully convert to phenol-free receipt paper for use in all standard and mobile-device checkout lanes.”

This is great news for Target employees and customers and follows the recommendations of our Mind the Store campaign, an online petition launched by our friends at Mamavation, Green America, and Clean Water Action. Mamavation founder Leah Segedie launched the petition back in 2018 asking Target to ditch these toxic receipts. “Thank you Target for making public health a priority!” exclaimed Segedie upon hearing the news about Target’s recent sustainability report. “Millions of shoppers are safer today based on the wise decisions Target has made about their receipts.”

Studies have found retail customers and workers can be exposed to significant levels of bisphenols when handling receipts, particularly after using hand sanitizer, a practice many of us are following these days during the pandemic. A report we co-released in 2018 published by found bisphenols in 9 out of 10 receipts sampled. This is a big concern as BPA and related chemicals are considered to be endocrine disruptors, and are hazardous even at incredibly low levels of exposure. Target’s action comes at a time when the state of Washington is considering regulating bisphenols in thermal paper under the state’s groundbreaking new law.

And, there is more good news from Target: the company also revealed it has made progress toward its goal to eliminate perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) in its textiles. Target eliminated PFAS in all of its private-label clothing in 2019. And, following our recommendations, the company is also expanding its commitment to address the entire class of PFAS. They stated:

“PFCs are typically found in textiles in stain- and water-resistant coatings. In 2019 we made significant progress toward this goal. For owned-brand textiles, we were able to remove PFCs from our apparel products. As we make progress on removing PFCs from additional categories, we are expanding the scope of chemistry that we are evaluating to a broader class of chemistry that PFCs are a part of: perfluorinated alkylsubstances (PFAS).

This is a big deal! But the company shouldn’t stop there.

Target should phase out and ban PFAS in ALL textiles, not just its own private-label products, and expand its commitment to other product categories where PFAS are most likely found in its stores, such as food packaging and other food contact materials.

CVS eliminates bisphenols from (those long) receipts

Target isn’t the only retailer that has announced progress in addressing the class of bisphenols in thermal receipt paper in recent months. In April, CVS Health announced it was phasing BPS out of its receipt paper this year, and the company recently confirmed to the Mind the Store campaign that this not only addresses BPS but also all bisphenols. They have now fully achieved this commitment!

This not only applies to CVS Health’s registers but also other places in their stores that use thermal receipt paper.

Target and CVS Health join other retailers such as Best Buy, Costco, and Whole Foods Market who have also taken action on BPS and other bisphenols in receipt paper in recent years.

CVS Health also shared in late 2019, it met its goal to reformulate nearly 600 private-label beauty and personal care products for toxic chemicals. Now that these reformulations are complete, CVS should take the next step and expand its chemicals policy to all brand name household cleaning, beauty, and personal care products, especially those marketed to women of color.

Walmart faces hurdles in meeting chemical footprint reduction goal

While CVS and Target recently reported progress in removing certain harmful chemicals, Walmart publicly disclosed a significant setback in meeting its goal to reduce its chemical footprint, as found in its own analysis released in August. Walmart’s chemical footprint has actually increased by 2.7 million pounds.

In 2017, Walmart announced an audacious goal to reduce the use of chemicals of concern in a number of major product categories by 10% by 2022, tackling toxics in formulated household beauty, personal care, household cleaning, baby, and pet care products. This is a big deal, helping Walmart earn high marks in our annual retailer report card. In August, Walmart reported there was a baseline of a whopping 215.9 million pounds of “priority” toxic chemicals present in these suppliers’ products (based on 2017 data) and reported the percent of priority chemicals had not decreased but actually increased by 1% between fiscal years 2017 and 2018, increasing from 215.9 million pounds to 218.6 million pounds.

So, in a one-year span, Walmart found an increase of toxic chemicals in its suppliers’ products, by 2.7 million pounds! And, with more toxic chemicals comes more toxic exposures.

This is clearly a disappointment. At the same time, we give credit to the company for having the guts to be transparent about the challenges it is facing. And let’s not forget this data is from fiscal years 2017-2018, so the situation may have changed since then.

Walmart has shared it is working to implement the 10% reduction goal it has set, for instance by training and engaging its suppliers that contribute the greatest to this massive chemical footprint.

We are rooting for the team at Walmart that’s working to meet its goal, especially as Walmart had previously successfully worked with suppliers to remove 96% of its “high priority chemicals.” We hope they will not only be successful once again but set even more ambitious goals in the years ahead, going above and beyond the 10% priority chemicals reduction goal. Given Walmart’s size and scale, its actions can be transformative.

Driving a competitive race to the top to transform the marketplace

It’s clear the race is on to see which retailer will be the leader in bringing safer products into the hands of consumers and drive toxic chemicals out of global supply chains. At a time when more and more consumers are clamoring for safer products, it’s clear retailers are listening.

Target’s and CVS Health’s new announcements show continued progress. And Walmart must do more to ensure it meets the goals it has set.

And at a time when researchers are sounding the alarm that toxic chemicals like PFAS can make us even more vulnerable to infectious diseases like COVID-19, retailers must step up and “mind the store.”

We can’t wait to see how these and other retailers progress in the months ahead, especially with our fifth annual Who’s Minding the Store? retailer report card coming out in early 2021.