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Whole Foods Pledges to Stop Using Plastic Bags

Leading natural foods retailer bags plastic, rings up win for the environment

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People walk past a Whole Foods Market in the Brooklyn borough on May 7, 2014 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
The Whole Foods Market chain plans to stop using plastic bags in time for Earth Day 2008 (April 22). In place of plastic bags, Whole Foods customers will carry their groceries home in either recycled paper bags or reusable bags.

Whole Foods officials estimate the chain currently distributes 150 million plastic bags annually through its 270 stores.

Whole Foods Joins Other Businesses and Governments That Ban Plastic Bags
The new Whole Foods policy brings the store in line with a growing trend, as many governments and retailers ban plastic bags or discourage their due to environmental concerns. Nations and municipalities from China to San Francisco have banned certain types of plastic bags while others are requiring retailers to offer plastic bag recycling.

Although Whole Foods has been interested in ending the use of plastic bags for some time, store officials were never sure how to make such a policy work. When San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007, it provided a test case for Whole Foods.

After the company stopped using plastic bags in its San Francisco stores, the use of paper bags increased only 10 percent. Clearly, most Whole Foods customers switched to reusable bags instead.

The company conducted additional tests in Toronto and Austin, and then decided to extend the ban on plastic bags to all Whole Foods stores.

Plastic Bags are Commonplace—and Damaging to the Environment
Although a relatively new phenomenon in consumer convenience, plastic bags have become a standard solution for everything from shopping to food storage. Unfortunately, they also have become an environmental scourge. Here’s why:

  • Plastic bags that end up in landfills may take up to 1,000 years to break down. And plastic bags aren’t biodegradable. They actually go through a process called photodegradation—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic particles that contaminate both soil and water, and end up entering the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them.
  • Plastic bags are made from petroleum. Producing plastic bags consumes millions of gallons of oil that could be used for fuel and heating.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year and only about 1 percent to 3 percent are ever recycled.
  • Worldwide, people use nearly 1 trillion plastic bags every year. According to various estimates, Taiwan consumes 20 billion plastic bags annually (900 per person), Japan consumes 300 billion bags each year (300 per person), and Australia consumes 6.9 billion plastic bags annually (326 per person).
  • Plastic bags are so lightweight that they are easily blown into trees, roads and waterways. Plastic litter is now found everywhere on the planet—even in remote places such as Antarctica. In the Pacific Ocean, there is a floating morass of plastic garbage that is twice the size of Texas and growing daily.
  • Hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine mammals die every year after eating discarded plastic bags they mistake for food.

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