Walmart strengthens commitment to slash chemical footprint

Walmart has pledged to reduce its chemical footprint by 10% over the next five years, in the same week that research found that nearly two-third of British citizens want to keep EU chemical safety standards post-Brexit.

The commitment will see the US retailer remove chemicals of concern from household products such as household cleaners, cosmetics and skincare items at Walmart and Sam’s Clubs US stores. Walmart has also pledged to work with suppliers to improve ingredient disclosure.

“We know our customers are interested in what goes into products and how they are made,” said Walmart senior director of strategic initiatives for sustainability Zach Freeze. “It’s important for them, and we are advocating for them by encouraging innovation and transparency into that process.

“Our strengthened commitment provides more clarity on our expectations for suppliers in working towards enhanced product formulations and setting concrete benchmarks to check progress along the way.”

Toxic issue

Walmart’s new pledge sees it become the US retailer to set a time-bound reduction goal. It builds upon the company’s sustainable chemistry strategy which has already resulted in a 96% drop in the weight of high-priority chemicals. The firm’s commitment covers around 90,000 products from 700 suppliers.  

Business use of chemicals has increased in prominence in recent months. Supermarket heavyweight Tesco has vowed to phase-out toxic chemicals in the supply chain of its F&F clothing line, as part of a wider commitment to Greenpeace’s DETOX campaign.

Elsewhere, fashion retailers H&M and Marks and Spencer (M&S) vowed to implement new supply chain management approaches, after a new report linked some of the world’s largest fashion brands with highly-polluting facilities accused of dumping toxic waste into nearby water sources.

Companies with more than $670bn in revenue, including Adidas, HP and Walmart, have collectively reduced the use of hazardous chemicals in products by around 416m pounds in the last two years, according to a recent report.

‘No appetite for weaker standards’

In Europe, chemicals are regulated by the REACH system, an EU standard which protects people from harmful substances in everyday items such cleaning products and paints, as well as in articles such as clothes, furniture and electrical appliances.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU has thrown into doubt the country’s future association with REACH. A survey released this week reveals that Britons want to maintain current protections, with 63% of respondents, including 62% of Leave voters, saying that there should be no reduction in regulatory standards post-Brexit.

The poll, conducted on behalf of UK charity CHEM Trust and global consumer group SumOfUs, also shows that the public resoundingly back the use of safer alternatives to chemicals with serious hazards.

Poll researchers highlight that the UK could follow the model of Norway, which is subject to the REACH system despite not being an EU member.

CHEM Trust executive director Dr Michael Warhurst said: “This survey shows that the public – whether remain or leave voters – do not want any reduction in the regulations that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals after Brexit.

“The only way to be sure of achieving this objective for the UK to stay in the EU’s chemicals regulatory system REACH after Brexit – and it is possible for the UK to be in REACH but not in the EU, as Norway is.”

Echoing these views, SumOfUs campaigner Sondhya Gupta commented: “It’s easy to forget that we all come into contact with chemicals in everyday products, and this survey shows that there is massive support among both leave and remain voters for strong regulations to ensure that companies use safer chemicals.

“It’s clear that there is no appetite for post-Brexit UK to become a low regulation corporate free for all,” she added.

George Ogleby

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