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A Toxics-Free Future

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One year later, the yellow rubber ducky still contains excessive phthalates despite some encouraging improvements

Results of a second investigation on the contents of phthalic plasticizers in the yellow rubber ducky

By: Toxics Free Corps, China

Report in Chinese: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/VU1uMImC6ABmZ8wr3szlKA

On August 26, 2020, two Chinese environmental groups, Toxics Free Corps (TFC) and China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) successfully co-held an online press conference on the new report titled “The Chemical Safety of Plastic Toys Available from E-commerce Platforms (II) : An Investigation of the China Compulsory Certification (CCC) and Plasticizer Content of the Yellow Rubber Ducky”. 

TFC released the results of a second investigation on the contents of phthalic plasticizers in the yellow rubber ducky at this event, where the attending experts and others in the industry carried out deep discussion on issues such as phthalates’ impact on human health and the responsibility for regulating e-commerce platforms.

Review of Investigation I 

In October 2018, the TFC started paying attention to the chemical safety of soft vinyl toys, including the yellow rubber ducky, sold via e-commerce platforms, before finding out that some products contained severely excessive phthalates. 

In May 2019, TFC and CBCGDF jointly published a report titled “The Chemical Safety of Plastic Toys Available from E-commerce Platforms : An Investigation of the China Compulsory Certification (CCC) and Plasticizer Content of the Yellow Rubber Ducky”.

At that time, TFC also sent the results to relevant e-commerce platforms, market regulators and consumers’ associations and received replies from them. The e-commerce platforms removed relevant products with non-compliant plasticizer content from the shelf and required the sellers to offer CCC information before they were allowed to resume selling these products.

In April 2020, TFC launched the second investigation in order to further understand the availability of non-compliant yellow rubber duckies in the market and the effectiveness of corresponding measures taken by relevant companies and government departments. And it partnered once again with the CBCGDF to publish a relevant report. 

Results of Investigation II

Samples for this investigation came from some e-commerce platforms and offline stores specializing in selling maternal and child supplies in addition to China’s TOP3 e-commerce platforms.

The Sampled Platforms

For this investigation, the CCC information on 334 kinds of toys under the category of the yellow rubber ducky was checked online. Of them, 120 kinds of toys were actually bought and their CCC marks verified, before the samples of 70 kinds were sent to a qualified third-party lab for measurement of phthalic plasticizers’ contents.

By analyzing the resulting measurements, TFC found out that:

The sampled toys gathered for this investigation showed a 64% overall compliance rate in terms of phthalic plasticizers, with a combined compliance rate of 60% for the TOP3 platforms, which was significantly higher than 25% in 2019.

Seven of the nine other e-commerce platforms and four of the 11 offline stores were found to sell toys with excessive phthalates.  

The Compliance Rates of 70 Kinds of Plastic Toys in the Market in Terms of Phthalic Plasticizers’ Contents 

The yellow rubber ducky samples gathered for this investigation contained phthalic plasticizers 4.81 - 409 times as much as the national standard, which were even higher than the measurement results in 2019.

Non-compliance of the Measured Products in Terms of Phthalic Plasticizers’ Contents 

The overall CCC authenticity of the yellow rubber ducky samples from the TOP3 platforms was 30% with a combined product compliance rate of 27% and total CCC information webpage accessibility of 49%, which not just remained low but were hardly better than in 2019.

TFC thinks that problems with the contents of phthalic plasticizers have been alleviated to certain extents when compared with the investigation results in 2019, although effective control has yet to be achieved.

The chemical safety of plastic toys remains a challenge facing the entirety of the e-commerce and retail industries; the risk of consumers, especially children, being exposed to phthalates is still a concern.

By analyzing CCC mark authenticity and its correlation with non-compliant contents of phthalic plasticizers, the Toxis Free Corps saw that:

Regarding CCC mark authenticity, both the other e-commerce platforms and the offline stores performed obviously better than the TOP3, which, however, were apparently ahead of them in terms of webpage accessibility.

According to its statistical analysis, there was a certain positive correlation between CCC mark authenticity and the compliance rate specific to phthalic plasticizers’ contents.

There were still a small number of products with authentic CCC marks which contained excessive phthalic plasticizers, suggesting that relevant CCC mark management systems have yet to be further enhanced.

According to its statistical analysis, there was no certain correlation between CCC information webpage accessibility and the compliant contents of phthalic plasticizers in the case of yellow rubber duckies from the e-commerce platforms.

Overall, the TOP3 e-commerce platforms have not made enough efforts in ensuring that relevant products have authentic and valid CCC marks, and they have yet to improve their respective CCC mark management systems. Hazards arising from phthalic plasticizers can be effectively controlled by e-commerce platforms or stores ensuring that the products sold by them have authentic and valid CCC marks.

Recommendations from TFC

For E-commerce Platforms:

  • Continue to enhance the implementation of the Administrative Regulations on Compulsory Product Certificates; require the sellers to actively release CCC information on children’s toys and test reports on the compliance of relevant toxic chemicals via their respective retail webpages;
  • Conduct continual, systematic checking of the CCC information offered by the sellers, tackle products and/or sellers non-compliant in terms of CCC in strict accordance with applicable rules, and report relevant information to the market regulators;
  • Conduct regular, systematic spot checks on plastic toys sold by them, such as the yellow rubber ducky, in terms of phthalic plasticizers and other possible toxic chemicals. Share the results with the public and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which are paying attention to relevant problems. Take measures such as removing non-compliant products from the shelf. Contact relevant sellers to recall the affected products, and report relevant information to the market regulators;
  • Establish a dynamic listing system specific to chemical safety risks of products sold online, and focus on monitoring high-risk products on the list.

For Governments and Consumers:

TFC recommends that market regulators at all levels urge e-commerce platforms, under The E-Commerce Law of the People's Republic of China, to fulfil the responsibility for monitoring; work in strict accordance with the Administrative Regulations on Compulsory Product Certificates in order to fully prevent yellow rubber duckies containing excessive plasticizers from entering the market; effectively implement the Interim Administrative Regulations on Recalling Consumer Goods so that flawed consumer goods are reported and recalled; upon receiving relevant reports, take action whether CCC marks are available or not.

Also, it recommends that before buying any plastic toys online, consumers check their CCC information to ensure that it is complete and valid.