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Holiday Shopping: Best Retailers for Toxic-Free Gifts

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Gary John Norman / Getty Images

By Tom Hucker

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and Americans are expected to spend a whopping $1.1 trillion in holiday purchases this year.

Across the nation, discerning shoppers will seek out information to help them choose safe and healthy products for their families and friends. They will read warning labels to help them decide which toys might pose choking hazards, and which video games and movies are age-appropriate.


As party hosts prepare their office gatherings and holiday dinners, they will pore over nutrition labels to assess the saturated fat content in their gingerbread, the sodium in their stuffing and whether their turkey or ham is free of antibiotics or GMOs. And they might warn Uncle Frank about his cholesterol levels as he pours his second glass of eggnog.

All that information is easily available to conscious consumers. But unfortunately, holiday shoppers will find out very little about hundreds of toxic chemicals that are lurking in many of the gifts and foods they will purchase this season. Hardly any consumers will find labels warning them about foods or beauty products that contain phthalates, which are associated with reproductive harm.

Few shoppers will find out about the carcinogenic and unnecessary flame retardants that may be included with their child's new crib mattress or bedroom furniture. And most consumers will not realize that many of the new clothes or carpets they purchase may be covered in Teflon-like chemicals called PFAS, which are linked to cancer, low birth weight, immune system problems, and other harms.

Fortunately, the new 2018 Retailer Report Card shows holiday shoppers which retailers are taking steps to disclose and remove the worst toxic chemicals from the products they sell, and which ones don't seem to make this a priority. The newly expanded Retail Report Card was recently released by NRDC's partners in the Mind the Store coalition, with whom we work year-round to persuade retailers to reduce and eliminate the worst toxics from consumer products.

Using the Report Card, consumers can find out what their favorite retailers are doing to protect their customers from toxic chemicals—and what they're failing to do. The report finds that some major national retailers are taking significant actions to protect the public, while others show much less progress and are falling behind their competitors. The 2018 Retail Report Card ranks forty major retailers across 14 key criteria, so you are likely to find some interesting revelations about your favorite merchants.

Specifically, our coalition engages directly with retailers to urge them to develop an overall policy covering the worst toxic chemicals. The campaign then urges them to disclose the chemicals in products they sell and to phase out dangerous chemicals entirely from consumer products, often beginning with food, health and beauty items and products marketed for use by pregnant women, babies and young children.

Mind the Store

At a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congress are failing to protect public health from dangerous chemicals, NRDC's market campaigns and our partnerships with coalitions like Mind the Store offer NRDC members a way to bring public pressure directly to retailers to convince them to get toxic chemicals out of the consumer products we rely on every day.

And this public pressure is paying off. This year alone, 18 retailers improved their score. Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Amazon are the most improved companies this year, since each announced a broad-based new chemicals policy. Walgreens and Rite Aid each pledged to eliminate a long list of the most dangerous chemicals from beauty, personal care and household cleaning products. And Amazon announced the first chemical policy for any dedicated e-commerce retailer, following negotiations with NRDC and Mind the Store that lasted over a year.

Mind the Store

Unfortunately, while many major retailers made progress in 2018, too many others are still not with the program. An unacceptable 19 of the 40 retailers surveyed received an F grade for failing to create even the most basic policies to address toxic chemicals in their products or their packaging—including Traders Joe's, Starbucks and many other food retailers.

But we have found that organized pressure from NRDC members can force retailers to take dramatic action to eliminate the worst chemicals. After several consumers died from using dangerous paint strippers, hundreds of thousands of NRDC members and others wrote to Lowe's to demand that they end their sales of paint strippers containing methylene chloride or a toxic substitute, NMP. Lowe's quickly agreed to remove all deadly paint strippers from their shelves by the end of 2018. And The Home Depot, Walmart, Sherwin-Williams, Kelly Moore, True Value Hardware and some Canadian retailers have all followed with similar pledges to end the sales of these toxic consumer products.

We need to continue our momentum. We need to make sure companies know that consumers are watching—by thanking the leaders for the steps they've taken and challenging the laggards to start taking toxic chemicals seriously. Click here to see the rankings of individual companies and to send an email to their CEOs urging them to follow our coalition's recommendations.

If we keep up the pressure from informed consumers, we'll have many more toxic-free consumer products available for your holiday shopping list next year.

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