Frequently Asked Questions on Safer Choice
- What is special about the Safer Choice label?
Safer Choice is EPA’s label for safer chemical-based products. Every chemical, regardless of percentage, in a Safer Choice-labeled product is evaluated through EPA’s rigorous scientific process and only the safest ingredients are allowed. For over 15 years, the program has labeled products that are safer for families, pets, workplaces, neighborhoods, and the environment. The label represents leadership in safer product formulation. Here are some of the reasons why:
- To be eligible for the label, a product must comply with the Safer Choice Standard, which has very stringent human health and environmental criteria. The Standard incorporates safer chemical criteria for individual component class ingredients, like surfactants, solvents and chelants.
- To help formulate safer products and to increase transparency and understanding of safer ingredients, Safer Choice developed the Safer Chemical Ingredients List, which contains over 750 chemicals that meet Safer Choice criteria.
- Safer Choice reviews all ingredients in a product—no exceptions, no de minimis—against safer ingredient pass/fail criteria and thresholds. Safer Choice-labeled products contain only the safest possible ingredients.
- In our product evaluation, we can and do go beyond prohibiting ingredients based on lists of chemicals of concern and apply analytical methods—developed here at EPA to compensate for a lack of toxicological data—to prevent the use of problematic chemicals that have not made it to a list.
- Executive Order 13693 directs Federal agencies to select Safer Choice-labeled products whenever possible. Safer Choice is also mandated by many state and municipal purchasers and is included in the LEED EB standard Exit for maintenance in green buildings.
- We are a partnership program that harnesses the energy and creativity of product formulators, and especially small businesses, to innovate with products that work well and are safer for people and the planet.
- Safer Choice directs formulators to green chemistry alternatives before awarding the label and, under the terms of partnership, requires continuous product improvement to keep pace with innovation.
- Companies must make their formulary commitments in a signed written agreement with EPA, under which false statements constitute criminally punishable fraud. We also have an auditing program that includes annual audits to verify product ingredients.
- We require a first-of-its-kind ingredient disclosure for all products—either on the label or another easily accessible place—that will make the safer chemistry aspects of labeled products more visible.
- It is our sole mission to protect human health and the environment; we are sworn to fulfill that mission and uphold the public’s trust; and we are accountable to the American people.
- Why does EPA label products?
EPA's mission is to protect the health of people and the environment. To further that mission, EPA labels products so that consumers can easily choose ones that are safer for people and the environment. The program empowers consumers to protect their health and minimize impact on the environment through everyday purchasing decisions. Using EPA’s chemical and toxicological expertise, the Safer Choice Program applies stringent criteria for health and environmental safety in labeling products with the safest possible chemical ingredients.
- What does the Safer Choice label mean?
When consumers see the Safer Choice label on a product, they can be confident that the ingredients have been through a rigorous EPA review. The label means that EPA scientists have evaluated every ingredient in the product to ensure it meets Safer Choice's stringent criteria. When people use Safer Choice products, they are protecting their families and the environment by making safer chemical choices.
- Do Safer Choice products work well?
Yes, in addition to meeting stringent safety criteria, every product with the Safer Choice label has met high standards for performance.
- Where can I find Safer Choice products?
For a complete list of Safer Choice products visit our product webpage. As of January 2015, about 2,250 products qualify to carry the label and new products are always being added. You will start to find Safer Choice products at most stores that carry cleaning and household supplies, including major nationwide retailers and thousands of smaller and independent stores, as early as the spring and summer of 2015.
- How do companies earn the Safer Choice label for their products?
Companies must apply for the label by submitting their products to Safer Choice for review. We carefully evaluate every ingredient against a stringent set of health and environmental criteria. These criteria address potential health and environmental concerns, including, for example, if an ingredient is associated with causing cancer or reproductive harm, and if it accumulates in human tissue or in the environment. A product is only allowed to carry the Safer Choice label if each ingredient is among the safest in its ingredient class. Additionally, the product as a whole has to meet safety criteria and qualify as high-performing and be packaged in an environmentally friendly manner. Some consumers want to know which chemicals are in the products they use so, as a condition of labeling, all ingredients must be disclosed either on the product or the manufacturer’s website.
The Safer Choice labeling process is explained on our website, where you can find our Safer Choice Standard and Criteria for Safer Chemical Ingredients. We work closely with companies that want to make safer products, and the Safer Choice label offers the incentive for many manufacturers to invest in improving their formulations. Companies seeking information on how to apply for the Safer Choice label should contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- There are many ‘eco-labels’ in the marketplace -- how is Safer Choice's labeling program different?
Safer Choice's labeling program is different from other eco-labels in several important ways:
First, we are focused on chemistry and identifying safer chemicals. Our approach to product review is grounded in EPA’s more than 40 years of experience in evaluating the human health and environmental characteristics of chemicals. This expertise enables us to go beyond established lists of ‘bad actor’ chemicals and to use expert judgment to determine the likely health and environmental hazards of chemicals that haven’t been widely studied.
Second, we look at a full set of health and environmental endpoints based on a range of data, experimental and modeled, and expert judgment.
Finally, we work closely with companies to help them find safer chemicals for their products.
- How does EPA verify compliance with the Safer Choice Standard and qualify a product to carry the label?
Step 1: Full ingredient disclosure -- To earn permission to place the Safer Choice label on products, a manufacturer must disclose all product ingredients, without exception. This disclosure requirement includes ingredients supplied by third parties that are proprietary and not disclosed to the manufacturer; the third parties send the information directly to the Safer Choice Program. The partnership agreement contains a non-confidential statement of formula that references the confidential formula kept in our files. Only products that pass review can bear the Safer Choice label. If the manufacturer wishes to change the formula and retain the label, the new ingredient(s) must first go through Safer Choice review; if in compliance with the criteria, we modify the partnership agreement and update our records.
Step 2: Partner Audits -- Safer Choice conducts regular partner audits to ensure that the ingredients in labeled products are identical to those disclosed during partnership development (and modification, if any) and are in compliance with the latest version of the Safer Choice Standard and Criteria for Safer Chemical Ingredients. During the three-year partnership period, Safer Choice will conduct an on-site audit, a desk audit, and a renewal audit on or about the anniversary date of the partnership. The audits will also oversee and seek to ensure good manufacturing practices and proper use of and communications about the Safer Choice label.
- Are products labeled “natural” safer than other products?
It is impossible to say without knowing the product ingredients and understanding their potential effects. Cleaning products marketed as “natural” typically use chemicals made from corn or other biological sources, rather than petroleum. While these cleaning products may be made out of renewable resources, their “natural” ingredients are still chemically identical to those made from petroleum, so their potential health and environmental impacts during and after use would be the same.
- Are homemade cleaning products “green,” and are they effective?
Household chemicals used for cleaning purposes include lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, borax, ammonia, and bleach. Some of those chemicals can be useful and generally are benign; others are potentially hazardous. Borax, for example, which is used to enhance the cleaning power of a detergent, is associated with reproductive, developmental, and neurological hazards. These chemicals can also be toxic if used in the wrong ways. For example, combining bleach and ammonia generates a toxic chloramine gas. Typically, homemade cleaners do not perform as well as commercially available products, which are specially formulated chemical blends designed for high performance.
- How does using Safer Choice products help the environment?
Empowering consumers to quickly identify and choose safer products benefits the environment and human health. Products that carry the Safer Choice label are safer for fish and other aquatic life, do not pollute air or waterways, and do not add harmful chemicals to the land.
Two types of chemical ingredients that can affect the environment are surfactants and "builders." Surfactants, chemicals that help remove dirt, are key ingredients in all detergents, but they can be toxic to aquatic life. Surfactants that break down quickly are safer, since they are effectively neutralized in sewers and wastewater plants. Through our Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative, we help companies voluntarily move to safer surfactants.
“Builders” change the qualities of water so detergents can work better. One builder, inorganic phosphate, is an essential nutrient for plants, but in high concentrations can be harmful to the environment, leading to problems like algae blooms and loss of oxygen in waterways. Many states and localities have banned or restricted inorganic phosphates in laundry detergents. Safer Choice products are free of inorganic phosphate builders.
Also, all products that carry the Safer Choice label must meet other environment-conscious criteria, such as sustainable packaging requirements and restrictions on levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
- Are cleaning product manufacturers required by law to list all their ingredients?
No. Unlike food products, manufacturers of chemical products are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. At Safer Choice, we believe transparency is the key to helping consumers make informed choices. As of April 2011, we require that all ingredients, including fragrances, be listed for all products that carry the Safer Choice label. Ingredients must be listed either on the product or on an easy-access website. As manufacturers come into compliance with the listing requirement, consumers will be able to understand more about the Safer Choice products they use and their health and environmental safety benefits.
- How is the Safer Choice label good for businesses and the economy?
In implementing its safer product labeling program, Safer Choice not only evaluates products and their ingredients to ensure compliance with the Safer Choice Standard, but also offers advice on safer alternatives for ingredients that do not meet its safety criteria. This consultation service, unique among eco-labels, helps formulating companies learn about safer chemistry and earn the Safer Choice label, thereby distinguishing their products in the marketplace. It also encourages research institutions to invest in exploring and developing safer chemical alternatives.
Consumers are focusing more and more on sustainability and are looking for advice on how to buy safer products for their families. The Safer Choice label, backed by the scientific expertise and experience of EPA, provides the assurance many consumers seek.
Companies that have invested in safer chemistry and earned the label have entered an expanding marketplace for sustainable products. These companies can look forward to growing their businesses and adding green jobs to the economy. Participants in the green marketplace include major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Safeway, Home Depot, and Target, which have given special status to Safer Choice products, and government purchasers who are increasingly specifying the Safer Choice label in their purchasing requirements.
- How do I stay informed about what Safer Choice is doing?
- Is it possible to formulate a product that qualifies for the Safer Choice label by selecting ingredients from the Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL)?
Yes. If you only select chemicals from SCIL with CAS numbers that represent discrete chemicals—not mixtures or chemicals with variable characteristics—and if all product-level requirements are also met, then it is likely that your product would be a strong candidate for the Safer Choice label. If you select ingredients from SCIL with CAS numbers that represent mixtures or variable characteristics—like molecular weight or numbers of ethoxyl or propoxyl units—then the program would need additional information on the composition/structure of the ingredients to accurately assess its hazard profile and decide if it qualifies for the label.
- How does Safer Choice treat liquid detergent packets?
EPA does not allow use of the Safer Choice label for liquid detergent packet products (those contained in a soluble film) because of the potential hazard they represent to young children and others. A number of exposure and poisoning incidents, including fatalities, have been attributed to this product sector. (For a definition of liquid versus solid packet contents, see ASTM D4359-90.) Data show that incidents in this sector are disproportionately more frequent than for similar non-packet products. Safer Choice will consider reentering this sector once the program has a better understanding of the mode of toxicity and how effective bittering agents or other means can be in preventing exposures. Safer Choice would use this information (as well as the ASTM safety standard for liquid laundry packets—F3159-15) as the basis for developing protective criteria. Partners will have until June 30th, 2017 to discontinue use of the Safer Choice label on liquid detergent packet products.