“Paper or plastic?” is soon to be a question of the past at all 270 Whole Foods Markets. By Earth Day 2008 (April 22nd) plastic bags will be banned by the world’s leading retailer of natural and organic foods. The company’s decision to go plastic bag free is in keeping with their strong environmental commitment. According to their web site, there are “thousands of reasons” to eliminate plastic bags, including the fact that it can take more than a thousand years for a disposable plastic bag to break down in a landfill.
Whole Foods is not the only grocer to revisit the issue of plastic bag use. Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarkets, which owns Pick’n Save, Copps, Rainbow Foods and Metro Market, said all 153 store locations have recycling bins for plastic grocery bags. The 125,000 pounds of plastic bags brought back by customers each month are reused in the manufacturing of plastic decking.
In 2007, the city of San Francisco approved groundbreaking legislation to outlaw plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets and large chain pharmacies, citing the fact that the filmy plastic is hard to recycle and easily blows into trees and waterways, where it is blamed for killing marine life. The city has embraced the legislation, which provided Whole Foods the means to test the ban at its San Francisco stores, in anticipation of making it a chain-wide mandate.
This issue reaches outside the United States as well. In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags. Essentially, using plastic bags became politically incorrect and socially unacceptable. Whole Foods hopes the same thing will happen here in the U.S. Although they do make available a 100% recycled (and recyclable) paper bag option, Whole Foods also offers customers the option to purchase their new ‘Better Bag,’ which is made from recycled plastic bottles and sells for 99 cents. Each time you use the ‘Better Bag’ (or any old bag, for that matter) Whole Foods will give you a ten cent discount on your groceries.
I’ve already purchased one of Whole Foods ‘Better Bags.’ I carry it in my backpack and I love it! It’s strong and holds twice as much as the typical plastic grocery bag. Kudos to Whole Foods for having the vision and commitment to address this issue.