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Toxics-Free Corps Released Its Third Investigation of Phthalates in Rubber Ducks: E-Commerce Compliance Rate Still Lower than 80% Despite New Improvement Made

2021/6/29 16:35:10

Report Summary


In order to continue studying issues such as the compliance of the contents of phthalates as a type of plasticizers in plastic toys represented by rubber duck toys, China Compulsory Certificate (CCC) compliance and the effectiveness of management/control measures of relevant companies and government departments, Shenzhen Zero Waste (Toxics Free Corps) conducted the third annual chemical safety survey on plastic toys available from some e-commerce platforms from March to May in 2021 and released the report on 27 May 2021.


This survey covered four e-commerce platforms and 14 offline stores in 11 places. We also received some rubber duck samples donated by five volunteers. Three of the four e-commerce platforms are integrated ones, namely, Taobao, JD and Pinduoduo, while the remaining one is Beibei, a platform specializing in selling mother and baby products.


Under the principle of sampling the best-selling products, the survey team sent 119 rubber duck samples bought from the e-commerce platforms, 15 ones bought from the offline stores and the five samples from the volunteers to a third-party lab for inspection on their plasticizer contents. We also manually checked the CCC authenticity and validity of these samples.


Besides, the survey team manually checked publicly available online information on the CCC and other qualifications of the TOP100 rubber duck toys by overall ranking from each of the three integrated e-commerce platforms.


After obtaining the sample inspection data and other preliminary survey results, the survey team reported them to relevant companies and government departments in a timely manner. We recommended that these institutions take timely management/control measures to deal with the problematic products, and requested their feedback on specific measures, their effectiveness and relevant challenges.


Major findings of this survey are as follows:


The overall plasticizer compliance rate of the rubber duck samples from the e-commerce platforms was 76.5% or, with Beibei excluded, 76.2%, showing obvious improvements over the levels in 2020. This showed that product risks from harmful chemicals had been further controlled, although the compliance rate was still below 90%, if the latter is regarded as a control target that can be pursued in the current stage.


The platforms differed from one another in the plasticizer compliance rate of the rubber duck toy samples. Of the three platforms which are directly comparable, JD was the best with a compliance rate of nearly 90%; Taobao had a slightly lower rate, which also exceeded 80%; Pinduoduo was behind both of them with a rate of lower than 60% and no improvement over the level in 2020. Beibei performed fairly well with a compliance rate of nearly 80%, which was higher than the average level.


There were rubber duck toys containing excessive plasticizers whether they were bought online or offline. On average, the plasticizer contents of the 37 non-compliant samples were 294 times higher than the standard value, which was almost the same as in the previous two annual surveys. This indicates that individual problematic products remain highly harmful and pose great health risks to people exposed to them, especially children.


High contents of Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP) were the main reason for the non-compliance of the products as a whole. Of the 37 non-compliant products bought online and offline, 95%, or 35 samples, were non-compliant in terms of DEHP contents alone, whose mean was 274.2 times higher than the standard value; 30%, or 11 samples, were non-compliant in terms of DINP contents alone, whose mean was 31.7 times higher than the standard value.


The overall CCC authenticity and validity rate of the rubber duck samples from the e-commerce platforms was merely 24.4% or, with Beibei excluded, 22.9%. Instead of any improvement, it was even lower than the levels in the previous two annual surveys. This indicates that the e-commerce platforms still need to enhance management/control over product qualifications.


The fact that the overall compliance rate (the rate of plasticizer-compliant products with an authentic and valid CCC) of rubber ducks available from the e-commerce platforms was just slightly higher than 20% means that they remained unsatisfactory in terms of legality and compliance, and that the possibility of other product safety risks deserves attention.


For rubber ducks from the e-commerce platforms, there is a statistically significant positive correlation between CCC authenticity/validity and plasticizer compliance. This means that, with strengthened regulation, relevant government departments and companies can bring more plastic toys with an authentic and valid CCC into the market, thereby making it more likely for consumers to buy plasticizer-compliant products and, overall, reducing health risks for them, especially children.


No significant correlation between the availability of online information on the CCC for a product and its actual CCC and plasticizer compliance was found. We can therefore infer that it is impossible to truly increase the overall compliance rate of products by doing no more than requiring the e-commerce platforms to release the CCC number or the photo of this product certificate via a web page.


After receiving our survey report, relevant e-commerce platforms and government departments gave the survey team some positive feedback, demonstrating that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can communicate and cooperate effectively with both types of institutions on how to improve chemical safety of children’s products and ensure consumer rights, thus continuously facilitating the fixing of relevant problems.


This survey has the following major recommendations for the e-commerce platforms, the market regulators and consumers:


The e-commerce platforms should continue strengthening CCC verification and require relevant companies to actively release product safety information on plastic toys, including the photos of their products containing the CCC logo and information; they should take effective measures to ensure that plastic toys sold via the platforms each come with an authentic and valid CCC.


The e-commerce platforms should enhance spot-checking of plastic rubber duck toys for plasticizer examination, remove all the non-compliant products, report them to the market regulators, and request them to urge relevant producers to recall products identical to the non-compliant samples in terms of batch number with assistance from the platforms in this process; it is necessary for the platforms to add an examination report on hazardous substances (including phthalates) in relevant products as a verification item about their suitability for being putting on the shelf.


The market regulators should conduct investigations specific to the issue of plasticizers and other toxic substances in rubber duck or similar plastic toys available from the e-commerce platforms. It is necessary for them to ensure the effective implementation of the Interim Regulations on Consumer Product Recall Management which took effect on January 1, 2020, and to force the producer to be the first responsible person, who must report and recall consumer products with flaws. For products which were already granted a CCC but are non-compliant in terms of plasticizer contents, an investigation on the CCC should be conducted to identify the reason why such non-compliant products were certified, before they are accordingly dealt with. Upon receiving a report on toys with evidence that they have product quality problems, the market regulators should conduct an investigation whether these products come with a CCC or not.


The Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the National Health Commission (NHC) of the People’s Republic of China should include both DEHP and DINP into the List of Chemicals for Prioritized Control (Batch 3), and take measures to minimize their impact on human health and the environment during production and use.


When buying rubber duck or similar plastic toys online, consumers may refer to the white list of compliant products from this survey. When they buy other plastic toys online, they may view or demand the producer to offer CCC information (including the CCC number, the inspection report, the CCC logo on the outer product package, the photo of the factory code, etc.).


Once seeing that the business is unable to offer the required information or that such information is incomplete or invalid, among others, the consumer must not buy the product and should complain to the platform with a screen shot as evidence. The consumer may gather evidence and complain to the platform immediately if he/she receives the product and finds out that there is no CCC logo on its outer package or that it is inconsistent with what the business described.