US retail giant Target has agreed to systematically reduce its use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. The company is aiming to eliminate the substance primarily in products that target kids, but items such as shower curtains, packaging and fashion accessories are also in the mass-market retailer’s crosshairs.
PVC products can contain toxic additives such as lead and phthalates (pronounced thal-ates), and Target is cleaning house from the inside out, working with its band of private-label manufacturers to reduce and/or eliminate the use of PVC in more Target-branded goods. Infant products and toys are at the top of the list. Target baby bibs and changing tables have been mandated to be PVC-free by January 2008, and the company has also pledged to eliminate phthalates in most of its house-branded toys by fall 2008.
The issue of phthalates is not new on the US scene. Banned by the European Union for some time, the state of California will be enacting similar measures in 2009 to prohibit the sale of toys containing phthalates. And several other states are currently looking into similar legislation.
So in a year in which the US toy industry has already suffered the knock-down punch of massive recalls, could this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? According to Toy Industry Association spokesman Frank Clarke, phthalates have been phased out of most toys, and PVC is more commonly used in infant products such as teething rings, rattles and swimming pool toys. As such, further bans should not significantly affect toy manufacturing operations or sales. ‘Compared to some of the other worries in the industry right now,’ he says, ‘this one is a little less urgent.’