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Whole Foods does its part to help the environment
Posted May 2, 2008

Jennifer Kitzmann
LV Life Editor

All of the Whole Foods Market stores across California, including those in Santa Monica and San Francisco, have discontinued the use of plastic grocery bags as of Earth Day this year. And they are encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Jennifer Bushnell, a regular Whole Foods customer, said it is about time that a supermarket cut down on the amount of plastic offered.

“I think Whole Foods is a good start in the right direction in getting rid of plastic bags, and hopefully other markets will do the same,” Bushnell said.

Whole Foods operates 270 markets across the state.

“We are so thrilled with the positive response from our customers. It's exciting to see so many reusable bags being used at checkout.” Shawn Glasser, Whole Foods spokesperson, said.

The move is part of a larger trend in communities across the nation to become more eco-aware – a trend that encompasses everything from using reusable bags in supermarkets to bicycling across town instead of driving.

No more plastic at checkout

Whole Foods Market was the first U.S. supermarket to commit to completely eliminating disposable plastic grocery bags.

On Earth Day, many Whole Foods stores gave out free reusable grocery bags.

A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market, said that Whole Foods hopes to inspire shoppers to prompt positive environmental change by adopting the reusable bag mindset.

Beginning immediately, each store will work on depleting stocks of disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts.

Whole Foods Market has encouraged shoppers to bring their own bags for years, initially by offering a refund of either 5 or 10 cents at checkout.

In March, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban plastic shopping bags in certain establishments. The city's board of supervisors prohibits large grocery stores and drugstores from using non-recyclable and non-biodegradable plastic bags.

“Before Whole Foods Market decided to do away with this disposable plastic grocery bags at our checkouts, we ran tests in San Francisco, Toronto and Austin. Customers have overwhelmingly supported the plastic bag ban initiated by Whole Foods Market in these cities and applauded the progressive stance the stores have taken,” Gallo said.

Although the natural and organic grocer hopes to inspire shoppers to bring their own reusable bags, the company will continue to give customers a choice and offer 100 percent recycled paper bags if they are needed.

"We realize there are many more steps to take, and we recognize it's an ongoing process to provide as much Earth-friendly packaging as possible," Gallo said. "We will continue to evaluate each department within our stores as we seek to continually improve."

Discontinuing disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts is another step in the Company’s ongoing effort to provide more Earth-friendly bags. Even store such as Vons, Ralph’s and other markets are starting to offer the reusable bags throughout California.

Depending on what city you live in, Traders Joes offers a raffle and other contests throughout the year to encourage customers to bring their own bag. If customer to bring their own bag or if they refuse to take one, they are entered into a raffle to win a $25 gift certificate in a raffle as an incentive in being environmentally friendly.

Bad effects of plastic

Catherine Waltrip, who is an environmentalist and volunteers for yearly beach clean ups, said that petroleum-based plastics are toxic pollutants.

Plastic is one of the few pollutants for which consumers, bear at least partial responsibility because of the great demand for it and the refusal to insist on a more ecological alternative.

“Plastic has not yet been around long enough to reveal its decomposition process to us,” Waltrip said. “Some say it takes 10,000 years (to break down). Some speculate that the archaeologists of the future will dig down into the earth and reveal a layer of plastic that marks our lifetime like the K-T Boundary. They will call ours the Plastic Age.”

Each year, during an International Coastal Cleanup, hundreds of thousands of bags on beaches and in the ocean pose a threat to birds, turtles and other marine life.

Waltrip said that removing the plastic would be hazardous because the plastic is poisonous to sea life. It is hard to retrieve the massive netballs caught so deep under the ocean, that bringing it back up to the surface would also drag up thousands of dead fish.

Plastic waste, which absorbs high levels of PCBs and other toxic chemicals, settles at the bottom of the ocean. Fish eat this toxic waste and we eat the fish.

Doing away with plastic grocery bags won't just help protect marine life but will decrease various adverse health effects on us.

“More and more cities and countries are beginning to place serious restrictions on single-use plastic shopping bags,” Gallo said.

Even though, stores like the coops which promote environmental friendliness offer oxybiodegradable bags that can be recycled, however many environmentalists oppose biodegradable plastic because it takes fossil fuel to produce it.

Recycling

The American Chemistry Council, which represents many of the nations leading plastics makers, does not believe that banning the use of recyclable plastic bags will solve the problems concerning the environment. but will The organization is encouraging people to switch to recyclable plastic. Plastic grocery and retail bags make up a tiny fraction that is less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, and programs to recycle plastic bags are steadily increasing throughout California, said Jennifer Killinger, a member of the American Chemistry Council.

Killinger said that America’s plastic makers are successfully working with California’s grocers, communities and local governments to help expand programs to recycle bags and educate consumers.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board has praised ACC's Plastics Division for working collaboratively over the last two years in the effort to increase plastic bag recycling throughout the state. As a result of these efforts, plastic bag recycling programs are steadily growing, and in-store drop-off bins have become a primary collection mechanism in many California communities.

Researchers also suggest that the increase of biodegradable products will only increase question about the amount of litter in the environment. Many people mistakenly believe that bags labeled “biodegradable” or “compostable” will readily decompose in the natural environment. But that is not necessarily the case, they say.

The biodegradable and compostable products currently on the market require large-scale, professionally managed composting facilities to decompose. 

Waltrip said she has switched to biodegradable trash bags and avoids using plastic whenever possible.

“This includes ordering drinks with no lids and no straws,” Waltrip said. “I always forego a bag at stores, either bringing my own or, if I've forgotten them, carrying my items into my house in armfuls. Every piece of plastic I have not used is a piece of plastic that is not in a landfill or a lake or a forest or an ocean. I only wish more biodegradable products were available.”

Even though most Southern California supermarkets have not yet jumped on the bandwagon to say no to plastic grocery bags, they do offer either plastic or paper and invite those who wish to bring their own bag.

Many of the natural food markets are looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly by recycling and using more natural materials.

Bring your own bag

The trend in eco-friendly reusable tote bags is becoming more popular across Southern California to save the environment and say no to plastic and paper.

It is easy to find a tote bag being sold almost anywhere, especially in Whole Foods or your local marketplace. Almost everyone is starting to make a difference and is carrying totes more often. Insulated totes are also being made to keep food cold or warm.

Jennifer Bushnell, an eco-friendly customer and regular client at Whole Foods said she never accepts a bag plastic or paper when shopping.

“I always carry my bag everywhere when I shop at the markets, buying cosmetics, going to the clothing store and I keep one in the car too. I just tell the sales representative I do not need a bag,” Bushnell said. “I think the more I say no to bags at the counter, everyone will catch on sooner or later.”

Jennifer Kitzmann can be reached at jkitzmann@ulv.edu.