When it comes to phthalates, the writing is on the floor!

Vinyl flooring

The writing is on the wall. Or better yet, it’s on the floor. First Home Depot and then Lowe’s Hardware have made public pledges to phase out toxic phthalates from their vinyl flooring products in the next year and a half. This is incredibly good news for our health: phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that wreak havoc on development. They’re guilty of producing birth defects in male genitalia, infertility, learning disabilities and behavioral problems, and harm to the immune system, among other things.

And this is incredibly BIG news. Together, Home Depot and Lowe’s represent a huge share of the international market for phthalates; flooring suppliers from all over the world will be forced to substitute their use of phthalates for alternatives.

But since when do giant corporations decide that it’s a smart business decision to eliminate cheap and very accessible materials from their supply chain? It has to do with mounting pressure that brand-sensitive corporations feel toward safer chemicals. Ever since we co-founded the Mind the Store Campaign, we’ve been working to build up this pressure on the top-ten largest retail stores through a combination of consumer demand, public accountability, and policy change.

When consumers speak out, these big box stores see that their customer base doesn't want to choose between affordable prices and safety. Public accountability like rallies and press conferences help incentivize big box stores to get out ahead of their competition, rather than be left behind and pinned as toxic laggards. Meanwhile new policy regulating phthalates in the European Union, the United States, and even in our home state of Maine has permanently changed the regulatory landscape so that corporate change becomes inevitable.

This trifecta of change is working, but our problems with phthalates haven't gone away. Phthalates are still a ubiquitously used chemical worldwide - they're in our raincoats, our personal care products, our shower curtains. We’ve got our chisel wedged into the phthalates market. Now we have to keep pounding our hammer until we split it open. Over the next five years, we aim to totally drive phthalates out of the marketplace. It won’t be easy, but today we are two big-box-store-sized steps closer to a phthalate-free economy.