Friday, July 17, 2009

Eco-Labeling on Consumer Products

I was reading an article online, that was written by Alex Salkever. It is about Wal-Marts mandate to have all product suppliers eco-label all of their products. This means that suppliers would have to calculate the environmental costs of their products. These costs will then be tabulated into an easy-to-understand green rating. A green rating label would be posted next to the price tag on each product. Some retailers claim that this new policy would cause the supplier more work and would cause them to change packaging styles to accommodate such a label. Some feel that supplier would have to pass the cost of the extra work and packaging changes onto the consumer, which could raise the cost of a product anywhere from 1% - 3%. By applying this mandate, Wal-Mart has forced transparency and accountability on the entire consumer products market. This mandate would have drastic and long-ranging effects not only on what we buy but also on what chemicals go into our homes, our bodies, and ultimately into our ecosystem. Currently there is a vast weakness of labeling and transparency laws in the U.S. Large areas of the consumer products sector are not required to reveal the chemical content of their products. This includes products like household cleaning agents and cosmetics. Some think that if a company is not providing a complete ingredient disclosure, that this lack of disclosure would imply the presence of harmful ingredients in their products. Other companies would claim that if they disclosed all ingredients, they would be giving away secret formulas. Some consumer products companies do list ingredients on their products, but tend to use very small print, making it difficult to read the label -- let alone understand what the chemical names really mean. Suppliers who fail to comply with Wal-Mart's eco ratings mandate, would get no shelf space. In order to receive the green-ratings label, suppliers will likely have to disclose the absence or presence of potentially harmful substances. This information will be factored into the label rating, and also appear somewhere on the eco-label itself, perhaps in the form of a warning or an explanatory note. This means that over the next 4 years companies will have to reformulate products and production processes to get rid of any 'bad" ingredients. Products might cost more initially. Over time companies will learn how to produce better products for the consumer and for the environment. In the end, companies would be able to get those prices lower. And if a company is not willing to comply....there is always an eager competitor offering a lower-priced but still eco-friendly product will be more than willing to take their place.
This all sounds great but not being a scientist myself, I sure hope that the label explains what a chemical is and what impact it has on me and the environment. I really wish that I had paid more attention in my high school science classes. I also wonder if this same eco labeling mandate will be applied to those companies that make cigarettes and other tobacco related items...now THAT would be interesting to see.

1 comment:

Lorac said...

You're not kidding!

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