The outcry against the use of disposable plastic bags rose again last week as Whole Foods Market declared a ban at its stores, and municipal bodies on the East and West coasts considered legislation to reduce usage and encourage recycling.
Whole Foods set a deadline of April 22 — Earth Day — to eliminate distribution of plastic bags at its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
“Together with our shoppers, our gift to the planet this Earth Day will be keeping 100 million new plastic grocery bags out of our environment between Earth Day and the end of this year,” A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for the Austin, Texas-based chain, said.
On Tuesday, the day of its announcement, Whole Foods said it distributed more than 50,000 reusable shopping bags to customers. The company also said it asked each store to begin immediately to deplete stocks of disposable plastic bags to raise awareness about the benefits of reusable bags.
Gallo said Whole Foods ran tests in San Francisco, Toronto and Austin to gauge the impact of eliminating plastic bags, “and the response has been incredibly positive. Customers have overwhelmingly supported the ban in those cities; our team members are excited and passionate about taking this initiative; and we're finding it's created a great forum for discussion and awareness at the checkout counters.”
While hoping to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags, Whole Foods said it will continue to offer an environmentally sensitive option — a 100% recycled-paper grocery bag.
Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., has been offering reusable bags for sale since October. A spokesman said Wal-Mart has no statistics on how well the reusable bags, priced at $1 each, are selling.
Keith Christman, senior director of packaging for the American Chemistry Council, an Arlington, Va.-based group that represents plastic bag manufacturers, said his members encourage recycling of plastic bags rather than banning them.
“Plastic bags are a convenience people like, and 92% of consumers tell us they reuse the bags, so we're in favor of encouraging them to bring the bags back to stores or recycling centers so they can be made into new bags or other useful products.”
In other developments last week:
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of a proposal that calls on the supermarket industry within the county to reduce the use of plastic bags 30% by July 2010 and 65% by July 2013; if either of those minimum goals is not met, the supervisors said they would seek an outright ban on plastic bags.
Officials in Westchester County, N.Y., proposed legislation that would require retailers to have in-store collection and recycling programs for plastic bags.
Andy Spano, county executive, said the county will encourage recycling of bags during Household Recycling Days, scheduled for March 28 and 29, where the first 1,000 people who turn in at least 20 plastic bags at a specific site will receive reusable bags.