When most people swing by the store to pick up a few items, they aren’t aware that they are basically entering a minefield of toxic chemicals. But the fifth annual Who’s Minding the Store? retailer report card reveals which major retailers are safer and which ones should probably be entered only after donning hazmat suits.
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Toxic-Free Future is behind the Mind the Store campaign. It’s been publishing chemical report cards since 2016, tracking the biggest retailers in the U.S. and Canada. This year, the report card evaluated 50 major retailers with a total of 200,000 stores across the two countries.
First, the good news. “Companies are implementing more comprehensive chemical policies and achieving greater reductions over the last five years,” according to the report. Nearly 70% of the 43 retailers graded in the last report, published in 2019, had improved their score by reducing plastics or toxic chemicals or improving policies concerning chemicals. Of the original group of 11 retailers included in the 2016 report card, their average grade improved from a D+ to a B-.
Fewer retailers are failing. Nearly half the retailers failed in the 2018 report, compared to only about one-quarter this year. The greatest gains were in the beauty and personal care sector. Ulta Beauty raised its grade from an F in 2019 to a C-, and Sephora went from a D in 2017 to an A. This year’s report card added criteria for screening for certain chemicals that disproportionately affect women of color. Rite Aid, Target and Whole Foods Market are among the companies that have committed to screening for these worrisome chemicals.
However, some retailers are still not making the grade. Twelve companies failed this year, due to exposing consumers, workers and the environment to harmful chemicals and plastics in products and packaging. The report named these companies to the the 2021 Retailer Report Card Toxic Hall of Shame: 7-Eleven, 99 Cents Only Stores, Ace Hardware, Alimentation Couche-Tard (Circle K, Couche-Tard), Metro, Nordstrom, Publix, Restaurants Brands International (Burger King, Tim Hortons, Popeyes), Sally Beauty, Sobeys, Starbucks and Subway.
Image via Igor Ovsyannykov