Consumer product manufacturers and consumers alike have a number of programs and labeling options to navigate when weighing the options for creating or purchasing safer products.
A significant level of achievement has been reached toward the goal of safer chemicals in the consumer products industry through the application of criteria-based hazard assessment principles and tools (e.g., the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals) and collections of chemical regulatory lists (e.g., UL’s List of Lists [LOLI]). While these principles and tools have delivered superior science and advanced the practice of “green chemistry,” there is an absence of an authoritative database or list of safer chemicals. Therefore, voluntary third-party certification programs and retailer initiatives have been developed over the last several decades, which aim to steer both companies and consumers towards intrinsically safer ingredients and products.
For many companies, the first major step on the path to safer products has been the use of third-party certifications or “ecolabels.” For example, GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals is a non-profit certification standard developed by Clean Production Action that promotes the use of safer chemicals in products and manufacturing. Utilizing a list-based screening tool (i.e., GreenScreen List Translator™) and a comparative hazard-based approach, the GreenScreen® method evaluates a chemical against hazard criteria for 20 properties (e.g., neurotoxicity, flammability, bioaccumulation). The method ultimately aims to assign each chemical one of four benchmark scores (e.g., Benchmark 1 – Avoid – Chemical of High Concern) and acknowledges uncertainty due to gaps in data. The GreenScreen List Translator™ assigns a chemical a score based solely on predetermined authoritative and screening hazard lists developed by advisory and governmental agencies. Thus, the simpler List Translator™ approach may be most useful for screening and prioritizing large numbers of chemicals during product development.
Established in the early 1990s, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA’s) Safer Choice Program is another voluntary program designed to encourage the use of safer chemicals in products without sacrificing performance by fostering collaboration among chemical suppliers, consumer products companies, and the program’s Third Party Profilers. Safer Choice is a product-based labeling program that provides recognition to products that meet the program’s stringent ingredient and product-level criteria. Safer Choice reviews every ingredient in a product against functional class criteria, including both human health and environmental endpoints. These criteria recognize that chemicals within a certain functional class (e.g., solvents) often have certain toxicological and environmental properties. To date, over 2,000 products carry the Safer Choice label, and nearly 1,000 ingredients have been listed on US EPA’s publicly available Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL).
With an increasing number of retailer lists, it is imperative to understand the science and rationale behind these lists to allow for informed decision-making.”
With the public’s growing interest and demand for safer and sustainable products, leading global retailers have committed to eliminating or reducing hazardous chemicals along their supply chains. Many of these retailers have released lists of “unacceptable” or “banned” ingredients, which are often established based on existing regulatory or advisory agency lists. In some cases, however, there has been little transparency regarding the methods by which many of the “bad actor” chemical lists are generated. For example, one global retailer has reportedly banned 100+ commonly used ingredients from their beauty and body care products; however, very little is known about the process or “high standards” applied to derive this ingredient list. From a consumer perspective, a long list of banned or restricted ingredients may indicate increased scrutiny and product safety, but this type of list may also drive companies to reformulate with data-poor alternatives. Thus, with an increasing number of retailer lists, it is imperative to understand the science and rationale behind these lists to allow for informed decision-making.
Third-party certification programs and corporate sustainability initiatives have become an important resource for consumers and product stewardship professionals, providing comparative hazard-based scores, product certifications/labels, and lists of “bad actor” chemicals. While the specific approaches and criteria used by each program may be “fit-for-purpose” based on a program’s objectives and resources, all should be documented with enough detail and transparency to promote consistency and accountability.
UL LLC. 2020. LOLI Chemical Regulatory Database. Accessed at https://www.ul.com/resources/apps/loli-chemical-regulatory-database.
Clean Production Action. 2020. GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals Hazard Assessment. Accessed at https://www.greenscreenchemicals.org/.