Target Agrees To Reduce Use of PVC, a “Poison Plastic”

Oakland, CA- Target, the fifth largest U.S. retailer, has told a national coalition of environmental health groups that it will systematically reduce its use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, commonly known as vinyl. Last year, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) joined a national campaign led by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), calling on Target to eliminate PVC, and CEH has sued Target for selling lead-tainted PVC lunchboxes. The company has said all children's lunch boxes and utensils in Target's own brands are now PVC-free, and that in some products it will use phthalate-free PVC.

PVC commonly contains toxic additives such as lead, which can cause learning and developmental problems, and phthalates, which can cause reproductive harm. Among the health effects of phthalates are premature birth delivery, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects and reduced testosterone production in boys. Over ninety percent of phthalates are used in the manufacture of PVC. California recently banned certain phthalates in products for young children.

"Since products made with PVC can expose kids to unnecessary lead threats, it's only prudent for companies like Target to get the lead out of their products," said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. "With increasing pressure to eliminate toxic chemicals from their products, we expect other companies will swiftly follow suit." After CEH found high lead levels in PVC baby bibs earlier this summer, Toys R Us pulled all its vinyl baby bibs off of store shelves nationwide. Over the course of the Target-PVC campaign, CHEJ and partner organizations held over 230 press conferences, protests, and flyering events at Target stores across the country, including an event at a Bay Area Target store featuring a 25-foot rubber ducky.

Target is joining a growing list of dozens of companies including Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Apple that are eliminating or reducing its PVC products and packaging. Wal-Mart just reached its two-year deadline to eliminate PVC from the packaging of its private brand products.

Target has stated that it is committed to systematically reducing PVC beginning with their store brands. In addition to addressing their own brands, they are collaborating with a variety of vendors and will also work with other suppliers whose products are sold at Target. The company is taking the following steps in their store brands:

  • Eliminating PVC from a number of infant products and toys. Target children's eating utensils and lunchboxes are now PVC-free. Target baby bibs will be PVC-free by January 2008. The company is phasing out phthalates in most of their toys by Fall 2008. They are also eliminating phthalates in baby changing tables by January 2008.
  • Replacing many PVC/Vinyl shower curtains with a safer PVC-free plastic, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). Target expects 88% of its shower curtains to be PVC free by this coming spring. Researchers at the EPA have reported that a new vinyl shower curtain, "can cause elevated indoor air toxics concentrations…for more than a month." Customers have repeatedly complained on Target's website about strong chemical odors being released from vinyl shower curtains purchased at Target.
  • Target will be 96% PVC-free in their placemat and table linen categories by Spring 2008.
  • Reducing PVC in packaging, and asking their vendors to reduce the amount of packaging on their products and use materials that are easily recyclable.
  • Target has engaged their merchandiser buyers through the development and distribution of a new Sustainable Products Guide, which includes a specific section on issues surrounding PVC.

"Since millions of toxic toys were recalled, parents are now looking for safer products for their children. Companies should ensure that customers are not rolling the dice with their families' health in the check out aisle. Target is doing the right thing by moving away from PVC and switching to safer alternatives," said Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Gibbs founded CHEJ after winning the nation's first community relocation of 900 families due to a leaking toxic waste dump in Love Canal, New York.

Target's mainstream investors have also expressed their concerns about PVC. A coalition of 16 institutional investors, coordinated by the As You Sow Foundation, sent Target a letter about the legal, financial, and reputational risks associated with their sale of PVC products and packaging. "We congratulate Target for taking these important steps in reducing the use of PVC", said Michael Passoff, associate director of San Francisco's As You Sow. "These efforts will help protect both consumer health and shareholder value."

"Study after study has found that chemicals in vinyl can cause health problems in children and adults," said Dr. Peter Orris, Professor and Chief of Service at the University of Illinois Medical Center Chicago. "While using PVC products, people may be exposed toxic additives like phthalates and lead and when incinerated, PVC is a major contributor to dioxin."

The hazards of PVC are not limited to its use by consumers: it creates toxic pollution during its manufacture, harming workers and community members near PVC plants such as in Mossville, Louisiana. When thrown away, toxic additives like lead and phthalates can leach into the ground and nearby drinking water sources. When burned in incinerators, PVC produces dioxins and furans, chemicals that can cause cancer and are considered to be among the most toxic environmental contaminants known. PVC packaging can not be effectively recycled, and can contaminate an entire batch of 100,000 recyclable bottles.

In October 2005, Wal-Mart announced plans to phase out PVC packaging in its private brands by October 2007. Wal-Mart also stopped selling PVC lunch boxes and baby bibs over concerns that those products may contain lead. The company also supports an industry-wide standard to remove PVC from all products intended for kids, and is exploring PVC free materials for its buildings. Wal-Mart stated in a 2007 press kit that, "more and more studies show that PVC has toxins that can pose long-term health and environmental risks."

Target Corporation has approximately 1,500 stores in 47 states.

ATTENTION REPORTERS: Additional materials are available at http://www.besafenet.com/pvc/media_resources_for_target_and_pvc.htm including a summary of Target's PVC commitment, photos of PVC products and packaging at Target, and photos of protests at stores.