13 March 2023, Quezon City. In celebration of the World Consumer Rights Day on March 15, the toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition called for improved chemicals disclosure and transparency to uphold the fundamental rights of consumers to product information and safety, and a healthy environment.
“As an advocate for a zero waste and toxics-free society, we want to see policies and regulations in place that recognise the importance of providing consumers with readily accessible and comprehensible information on chemicals comprising a product,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition. “Consumers have the unassailable right to know.”
In the course of its work towards a zero waste and toxics-free society, the group had discovered undisclosed hazardous substances lurking in diverse products and materials such as Bisphenol A (BPA) in thermal paper receipts, cadmium in plastics, lead in paints and surface coatings, mercury in skin lightening creams, brominated flame retardant chemicals in hair accessories, kitchen utensils and toys, and endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates in baby care articles, toys and school supplies.
“Disclosing the chemicals that make up a product through product labels and product databases, for example, will help consumers in making informed choices to protect them, their families and communities from substances which are hazardous to health and life, especially for the most vulnerable populations like women, children and babies in the womb,” she said.
“Chemical transparency will also inform how products after their useful life should be managed to protect waste workers, including those belonging to the informal waste sector, from being exposed to hazardous substances,” she said.
Policies and regulations in support of chemicals ingredient disclosure and transparency will encourage companies to shift to safe chemicals and materials, and also hold them accountable for their product safety and sustainability claims, the group further said.
To advance the disclosure of hazardous substances in products throughout the entire product lifecycle, as well as their replacement with safe alternatives, the EcoWaste Coalition urged companies and other stakeholders to make use of available tools such as the Global Minimum Transparency Standard (GMTS), ChemSec’s Substitute It Now or SIN List, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’s Red List, Green Screen, and other useful tools.
As identified in the Principles for Chemical Ingredient Disclosure espoused by BizNGO for Safe Chemicals and Sustainable Materials, companies should “disclose all intentionally added chemical ingredients” and that “substances that are known or suspected hazards to human health or the environment, including carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive/developmental toxicants, endocrine disruptors, asthmagens, and allergens” should not be treated as “confidential business information.”
Considering the wide range of products in the market, the EcoWaste Coalition identified top product categories for chemical ingredient disclosure such as children’s products like baby and childcare articles, school supplies and toys, beverage and food contact packaging materials, personal care and cosmetic products, household cleaning products, textiles and clothing products, electrical and electronic equipment, paints and allied products.
As noted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), “accurate information on the environmental health impacts of hazardous substances must be readily available, in an accessible format and appropriate context, to all, in particular consumers, workers and other rights-holders with particular attention to the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations.”
“This is critical to empower all people to avoid exposure to hazardous substances in consumer products, at the workplace, in their homes and communities, or via food, water, air or other sources and to seek remedy when they suffer harms from such exposure,” the OHCHR and UNEP said.