Safer Consumer Products Related News
Guest column: Debbie Raphael - Meeting consumer demand for safer products
CW Briefing, September 2012
California’s proposals to require manufacturers to seek less toxic ingredients for consumer products will help build consumer confidence in the goods they buy and allow firms to pursue growth on the basis of safer products.
People all over the world are concerned about toxic chemicals in the products they buy. Common sense tells us: if it’s something I’m putting on my body or in my home, a product shouldn’t contain any ingredient that could harm me.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to discover that a product we assumed was “non-toxic” actually contains a potentially harmful ingredient. We have all turned on the television or clicked on a news article about product recalls and potential health impacts from the things we buy. We then change our purchasing habits only to find suspicion gathering around another trusted product.
Currently, we as a society respond in one of three ways. The first involves the evolutionary process of government action. Over time, scientific knowledge builds to the point where a government agency decides it must act. While the evidence is usually widespread and well documented, we often see health or environmental impacts long before a ban goes into effect.
In the second, a consumer group, news organisation or health institution reports that a product contains a harmful ingredient. Much publicity ensues and consumer confidence in that product erodes to the point where the manufacturer may choose to reformulate the ingredients or take the product off the market.
A third approach involves legislative bodies responding to an outcry for change, leading to bans on a particular chemical in a particular product. While the latter two approaches offer a much quicker route than the first approach, they can result in unforeseen consequences when the substitute ingredient turns out to be equally toxic as the one it replaces.
Each of these options is effective, but carries limitations. Typically millions of consumers have already purchased the product, and the manufacturer must pour resources into reformulation and restoring customer confidence. Ideally, design decisions to minimise impacts to human health and the environment happen long before products reach the marketplace.
California’s proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulation, released in July (CW 30 July 2012), augments these options by creating a predictable process for reducing toxic ingredients in products. In its simplest terms, the Regulation requires manufacturers whose consumer product contains a toxic ingredient to ask: “Is this ingredient necessary? Is there a safer alternative? Is that alternative ingredient feasible?” In addition, by listing the chemicals that the State will be examining in consumer products, manufacturers have the opportunity to design out the use of those chemicals ahead of time.
The basic concepts we propose are not new. In fact, some in industry are way ahead of us. Many companies fully recognise that a reasoned and thorough analysis of alternative ingredients or product design eliminates expensive recalls and avoids costly political battles while building customer confidence. They are building a strong market share among the rapidly increasing number of consumers who demand safe products. The recent announcement by personal care giant Johnson & johnson to phase out harmful ingredients in its products is just the latest indication that companies recognise the need to take the toxics out of the things we buy every day.
We strongly believe that requiring manufacturers to analyse alternative ingredients and design safer products is a sound and ultimately profitable approach. We’ve seen companies large and small – many of them based in California – grow and create jobs around the development of safer alternatives. More importantly, these regulations create a systematic approach that protects our children, our environment and ourselves. It brings about meaningful change.
Ours is a small, but critical, first step. We plan in the first phase to look at a handful of chemical/product combinations. We will take the time to develop a process that meets the needs of consumers, manufacturers and retailers.
We anticipate other governments may adopt similar approaches, industry will develop innovative solutions and the movement toward safer products will grow. California adopted the Green Chemistry law in 2008 because consumers wanted assurances of safety, and industry wanted a science-based and predictable process for examining chemical ingredients.
We believe our regulation meets those goals.
For more information on the proposal visit: www.dtsc.ca.gov/SCPRegulations.cfm
The views expressed in contributed columns are those of the expert authors and are not necessarily shared by Chemical Watch.
Debbie Raphael became director of California’s Department for Toxic Substances Control (www.dtsc.ca.gov), the state government department responsible for the proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulation in May 2011. She is a scientist and a former programme manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment.
© 2012 CW Research Ltd. All rights reserved
DTSC WINS FEDERAL SUPPORT IN PUSH FOR SAFER CONSUMER PRODUCTS