Target Corp. has become the second major U.S. big-box retailer to create a program to reduce the amount of PVC in its packaging and products - particularly those intended for infants.
The company joins Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which two years ago committed to reducing PVC in its own branded products and packaging and also has stopped selling lunch boxes and baby bibs containing PVC.
Target did not announce the initiatives, but they were made public Nov. 6 by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, which has waged a national campaign the past 18 months to secure that commitment. With almost 1,600 stores, Minneapolis-based Target is one of the five largest retailers in the United States.
In an Oct. 17 e-mail sent to CHEJ, Susan Kahn, Target's vice president of communications, said the company is ``actively pursuing opportunities to reduce PVC in our products and packaging, where technically and economically feasible.''
The e-mail said the company's branded children's utensils, lunch boxes and coolers are now PVC-free. By January, its branded children's bibs also will be PVC-free, and Target-brand infant changing tables will be made from a PVC alternative.
Target also said by next spring 96 percent of its branded placemat and table linens, and 88 percent of its branded shower curtains and liners, will no longer contain PVC.
``Target's response reflects a growing trend among retailers to listen to the growing concerns of thousands of customers across the country,'' said Mike Schade, PVC campaign coordinator in New York for CHEJ, which is based in Falls Church, Va.
CHEJ and others have raised concerns over phthalates and vinyl in products intended for infants, as well as the amount of lead in toys made of or packaged in some vinyls - most of which, the organization said, are made in China, where lead still is sometimes used as a stabilizer in PVC.
``We are disappointed,'' said Allen Blakey, director of public affairs for the Vinyl Institute in Arlington, Va. He added that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has tested bibs and lunch boxes for lead and concluded the products are unlikely to harm children.
``[Target officials] don't need to get out of PVC as a way of getting out of lead. Safe, effective PVC products can be made,'' he said.
``All the public-opinion data we have seen shows that the public likes and wants vinyl products,'' he said.
Blakey said VI hopes Target realizes that and understands that only limited changes need to be made.
In its e-mail, Target said the company has not established a definitive time frame for its PVC replacement effort ``because we are still trying to identify suitable alternative materials across product lines that are available for use in mass production.''
``We will continue to transition to PVC-free products as viable alternatives are identified,'' Target said. ``We are also prioritizing all high-risk safety categories such as toys and infant products.''
Target declined to comment beyond the e-mail. That lack of an explanation troubles the industry, prompting some to believe Target's decision was driven by ``fears over imported products containing lead, which have had high visibility in the news this year,'' said VI President Tim Burns.
Schade pointed to several factors he believes prompted Target's initiative, including public pressure from the CHEJ campaign, which included a protest at its shareholder meeting this year; petitions from more than 10,000 Target customers; and letters from 40,000 people that were generated from visits to CHEJ's www.pvcfree.org Web site. Also, a coalition of 16 institutional investors sent Target a letter outlining the legal, financial and public-image risks associated with PVC.
``Lead is only partially the reason,'' Schade said.
Target's e-mail said the retailer is:
* Pursuing nonphthalate-PVC alternatives in most of its toy lines for fall 2008.
* Replacing full- PVC clamshell packages with paperboard/plastic clamshell packaging in its electronic product lines.
* Avoiding the use of PVC when possible for food packaging.
* Switching from plastic to corrugated cardboard packaging for dinnerware, travel accessories, toys and sporting goods that are part of the Target brand.
* Converting plastic backer cards on hair accessories products to recycled-content paperboard.
Target also said an independent third party has completed an audit of its merchandise and packaging. Now Target and the third party are developing a plan that includes ``the identification of PVC alternatives.''
Schade suggested Costco Wholesale Corp. could be CEHJ's next target.
``We would like to have retailers set additional time frames and benchmarks and make additional commitments'' to PVC-free products, Schade said. In addition to Wal-Mart and Target, Crabtree & Evelyn, Johnson & Johnson and Bath and Body Works have taken steps to discontinue use of PVC in packaging, he said.