Metro, Sobeys, and Tim Hortons receive an F grade for failing to take action on toxic chemicals

Toronto, Ont. — A new report reveals that many of North America’s largest retail companies are embracing chemical safety policies to help protect consumers from toxic chemicals in products. Unfortunately, Canadian-based retailers continue to lag behind U.S. companies when it comes to their chemical policies.

The fourth annual Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals, released today, evaluated and graded the chemical policies and practices of 43 retail chains with more than 190,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. The report is part of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.

In the largest-ever analysis of its kind, 63 per cent of the evaluated companies’ practices and policies improved over the past year. The study also found a dramatic improvement in retailer chemical action between 2016 to 2019, with the average grade moving from D+ to B- (for the eleven retailers evaluated since 2016). Unfortunately, four of the five Canadian-owned companies received below-average grades, with three companies, Metro, Restaurant Brands International (which owns Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeye’s), and Sobeys receiving an F grade.

“As evidence piles up about the dangers of chemicals like PFAS and bisphenols, many retailers are rising to the challenge by taking steps to make products safer and more sustainable,” said Muhannad Malas, Toxics Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “Such change shows even more clearly that companies like Sobeys, Metro, and Tim Hortons, among others, that received failing grades don’t have any excuse for not taking action to protect consumers and the environment from toxics.”

For the first time ever, major retail grocers and restaurants are focused on eliminating classes of toxic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ortho-phthalates, and bisphenols from food packaging materials, which have been found to be a source of exposure to harmful contaminants. These actions respond to growing consumer concerns about food safety and toxic chemicals.

For the second year in a row, four retailers lead the pack by receiving the highest grades for their work to protect customers from toxic products and packaging: Apple (A+), Target (A), Walmart (A) and IKEA (A-).

“Federal governments in the U.S and Canada have failed to act on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses,” explained report co-author Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “In light of this growing regulatory void, major retailers are stepping up to safeguard our health. This is helping to bring healthier products into the hands of consumers across North America and drive the development of safer chemicals and green chemistry solutions.”

Meanwhile, two Canadian companies received mediocre grades for their toxics policies. Loblaw (C), which phased-out phthalates and triclosan from private-brand personal care products, received the same grade as last year, and continues to lead other Canadian retail companies included in the report. However, to join the leaderboard, Loblaw should expand its policy on phthalates to other products, address PFAS, switch to non-bisphenol receipts, and disclose fragrance ingredients in the products it sells.

Additionally, Canadian Tire (D+), which was included in the report for the first time, received points for publicly revealing its chemical policy and phasing-out harmful paint stripping products containing methylene chloride. The company can improve its grade by eliminating all PFAS chemicals from household products and phasing-out bisphenol-coated receipts.

Overall, about one-third (14 out of 43) of all retailers evaluated received an F grade for failing to adopt basic public policies to address toxics in their products and packaging.

“A growing body of scientific evidence has shown health hazards from exposure to chemicals such as phthalates, PFAS, and flame retardants. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is of particular concern. The fact that so many companies have improved their chemical policies over the last year is thus inspiring and hopefully will be a strong impetus for others to act,” said Dr. Robin M. Whyatt, Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University.

Among the most improved companies are Bed Bath & Beyond, Dollar General, Lowe’s, Panera Bread, Sephora, and Staples. In the two months leading up to the release of the report, The Home Depot, Dollar General. Lowe’s, Staples made notable new chemical safety commitments, including adopting new policies restricting certain toxic chemicals, such as PFAS, that are harmful to human health and the environment.

For a full list of the evaluated companies and their detailed grades, analysis of trends, recommendations, and more, visit RetailerReportCard.com.

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry, and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate, and healthy communities.

ABOUT SAFER CHEMICALS HEALTHY FAMILIES (saferchemicals.org): Safer Chemicals Healthy Families leads a nationwide coalition of organizations and businesses working to safeguard American families from toxic chemicals. The group’s Mind the Store campaign challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and substitute them with safer alternatives.

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For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Jen Mayville, Environmental Defence Canada, 416-323-9521 ext. 228, (905) 330-0172 (cell), jmayville@environmentaldefence.ca