The grocery chain Whole Foods has decided to ban plastic bags from its checkout counters, a decision that will be fully implemented by Earth Day
2008. By offering only reusable sacks and recycled paper bags, Whole Foods estimates a savings of 100 million plastic bags that would otherwise have been distributed in its 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom between Earth Day (April 22) and year’s end. 430,000 gallons of crude oil will be conserved from the 100 million plastic bags thus eliminated.
Whole Foods has described its plastic bag ban as an Earth Day present to the planet.
American plastic bag manufacturing consumes 12 million barrels of oil annually according to USA Today. Over 1 billion of these bags are handed out in the United States daily, 1 trillion produced annually worldwide. The production, consumption and litter costs are tremendous. The bags take 1,000 years to degrade unless properly recycled. As noted on the Whole Foods website, this means that polymers of every single plastic bag ever produced on this Earth continue to contaminate the planet’s soil and water. Environmentally progressive countries are moving to ban or tax plastic bags. But Whole Foods sees no reason to wait and see if the United States of America follows suit.
Whole Foods has long offered 5 cent rebates to customers for each reusable bag brought into the store to pack groceries and will continue to do so after the ban takes effect. Whole Foods will sell reusable sacks and it will continue offering paper bags made from 100% recycled waste paper printed with non-ozone depleting inks. Customers are also welcome to reuse plastic bags brought from home.
Earlier this year, San Francisco enacted a ban on the use of plastic bags by larger grocery and drug chains, while similar bans have been under consideration in Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland, Los Angeles, California and Boston, Massachusetts. The Carbon Conscious Consumer (C3) reported that last week New York City passed legislation requiring larger retailers to recycle and reuse plastic bags. China enacted a ban that eliminates the use of bags less than .025 mm thick and requires a charge for any other plastic bags; that ban takes effect June 1. According to MSNBC.com, South Africa, Ireland, Taiwan, France and Germany have imposed fees and/or recycling requirements on plastic bag use, while Bangladesh has banned them outright. Australia is eyeing a possible plastic bag use ban beginning in 2009, according to Treehugger.com.
In Porthcawl, Wales the drive to adopt more sustainable lifestyles by reducing plastics use has given birth to a superhero, Bagman. Porthcawl, a seaside resort, is a testing ground for the rest of Wales. In the person of Joe Newbury, Bagman visits schools and libraries advocating the merits of a plastic bag free Wales.
Sources: China’s New Revolution: War on Plastic Bags, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22565129/, Pressure Builds to Ban Plastic Bags in Stores, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/us/24plastic.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss; china Launches Crackdown on Plastic Bags, http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/01/china_plastic_bag_ban.php; New York City Council Passes Plastic Bag Bill, http://c3.newdream.org/blog/2008/01/17/new-york-city-council-passes-plastic-bag-bill/; http://reusablebags.typepad.com/newsroom/tales_of_the_weird/index.html; Meet Environmental Superhero…Bagman, http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/cardiff-news/2008/01/12/meet-environmental-superhero-bagman-91466-20341198/.