Monday, May 5, 2008

Whole Foods Banned Plastic Bags So Everyone Just Switched To Paper

If you haven't heard the news, on April 22nd, a.k.a. Earth Day, Whole Foods officially eliminated the distribution of plastic shopping bags to their customers, which means that shoppers have to use paper bags or bring their own.

Sounds great, right? This will totally protect their environment because everyone will bring their own bags, right?

Um, no.

A few days ago, I biked over to Whole Foods to do some shopping, and I can honestly say that out of the, oh, 200 people in the store, there was only one other person besides me who brought their own bags. That means, obviously, that almost all of those people took their groceries home in paper bags.

Now, I will say that at least Whole Foods' bags are made from 100% recycled paper, but I'm sad the store's reforms aren't having a more positive effect and motivating shoppers to bring their own bags—although, I'm not sure Whole Foods ever thought they would.

Maybe one day, Whole Foods will make a real commitment to the environment and start charging customers for each paper bag they take.

Afterall, IKEA saw a 92% decrease in the number of bags used at their stores when they instituted a fee, and grocery stores all over Germany charge people for bags and people almost always bring their own.

...I think this means I need to write Whole Foods yet another letter.


seasonseatingsfarm said...

Whole Foods will net get it. They're always going to waste a ridiculous amount of non-renewable resources importing foods nobody needs but think they should have. I'm glad you're writing them. The sooner people realize this isn't a warm and fuzzy green store that cares about anything other than marketing, the sooner they can work on improving their buying habits.

organicneedle said...

I wonder what the numbers are like for Ikea since the American switch in policy.

One thing I have noticed is that Trader Joe's, which also does the paper verses plastic, seems to get more bag bringers in than Whole Foods. I'm not sure if it is having their own bag displays all over the store or if it is the raffle. (They put your name in a raffle if you bring your own bags for a chance to win $25 in store goods.) I don't think you will find more stores charging for bags in fear of losing customers...too much competition. They could, however, be better about offering incentives like the raffle, or give away free reusable bags, or even just sell them for $1 like Stop & Shop and Walbaums. (I actually see more green bags in Stop and Shop than I do Whole Foods.) People seem to think the paper bag has no footprint.

Joyce said...

I agree that people should bring their own, but at least the paper ones are recycled paper, and if they "get loose" in the environment they will decay rather than just sit there making a permanent mess. A little progress, I guess.

A Slice of the Pie said...

I am a 4-H Youth group leader/parent and all our club does is community service projects. So when Earth Day happened to coincide with our regular club meeting, I thought it would be a great opportunity for a letter writing project.

Well, the kids decided to write to big retailers asking them not to "give out" plastic bags. It was so very cool listening to their logic and concerns. They thought so deeply about what impact that would have, and they discussed Whole Foods policy change. They dislike that plastic bags wind up littering the world, but thought that paper wasn't all that much better of a choice. And those reuseable bags all the stores are selling, are they really more environmentally friendly than paper?

I think banning plastic bags is a step in the right direction, but I was really hoping for a leap.

MandyPandy said...

Actually, Wholefoods gives a discount for every reusable bag you use (I can't recall how much it is, but I think it's $.05). Problem is, I ALWAYS bring my bag and those d-bags don't ALWAYS remember to deduct $.05. I think they've only done it once for me.

Also, $.05 is a paltry amount when you're offering the carrot, rather than the stick. Surely, their paper bags costs more than $.05 each, and surely they could give a more generous discount for self-baggers.

arduous said...

I agree with Orgie. Almost every time I go to the TJs I see half of the people in line with their reusable bags. The $25 raffle really seems to work. Gelson's adopted the raffle too. I'm surprised Whole Foods hasn't done so yet.

LifeLessPlastic said...

OrgNeed and Arduous, Wow, I never shop at Trader Joe's because it's pretty inconvenient for me and they don't have bulk bins, but I think that's really cool that they have a $25 raffle. That seems like a great way to encourage people to bring their own bags, and not annoy people at the same time. I still think charging for bags would be the most effective thing, but it seems like the raffle works, which is awesome. Maybe Whole Foods should at least start doing that.

LifeLessPlastic said...

MandyPandy, Yeah, I've seen that Whole Foods givesa TINY discount for when people bring their own bags, but it's just not big enough to make people stop and think before they leave the house. For some reason it seems like people just respond more to penalties instead of rewards in this case.

Going Crunchy said...

I do get a few things at Trader Joe's, but do get turned off by the enormous amount of things in plastic there.

By the same token, I realized that in "regular" stores it may be the same item in plastic AND in an additional paper carton on the outside. TJ just skips one step.

I always bring in my bags there- - but haven't won a raffle yet!

I dislike so many stores selling bags now if they are plastic instead of canvas. That bugs me.

I'm promoting a special cause this week too. Stop by if you have a chance.

jennconspiracy said...

I agree that charging for bags is going to make people switch -- I just don't know why it hasn't been instituted here in the US.

I feel gypped - I went to TJ's to get almond milk for chai on Sunday, with my own bag, and didn't get entered in a raffle. *harumph*

GreenTeach said...

Love, Love, LOVE the blog. I am a new teacher who has committed to making an ecological and socially just classroom.

I find it so interesting that these "expensive stores" still have free bags. Up here in Canada we call Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" due to their costly foods. Across Canada the discount food stores such as No Frills, all charge for bags (plastic or paper) to help keep their overhead costs down. This has been going on for YEARS.

When 'normal' people are forced to fork out more cash for commodities they change their ways. But those that already live in a culture of excess (think giant houses, giant cars, giant rooms full of crap) 10 cents here or there for their groceries doesn't matter at all.

The more ironic thing is that items such as hybrid vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines etc are crazy expensive and ONLY the rich can buy them.

This is one craaaaazy world we live in folks!

Anonymous said...

I live in Ireland and several years ago they instituted a universal charge on plastic bags for every non-hygenic purchase. What that means is that my butcher can bag our meat without charge but I can't go into a grocery store and receive free bags for my goods.

The charge for the bags is considerable (i.e.: about 25 -30 cents each). Everyone grumbled a good bit to begin with, but now it's quite rare to see anyone without their own bags. Most stores sell brand-labled canvas/cloth carriers and charge about 1 euro for each.

When I went back to the States over the holidays I was shocked to see the irresponsible and thoughtless use of plastic bags. Why do people need a bag to carry 1-2 items to their car?

Anyway, rant over. I think the charging of bags is a fantastic idea and if it's universally implemented it is easily accepted.

The Minimalist said...

I find that if I put bags into the car my husband and I are more likely to reuse them. I like to shop at the farmer's market with my giant Lamb bag too - no plastic bags needed!

adrian2514 said...

Hey! I think that whole foods effort to eliminate the use of plastic bags should be commended as a great start. It'll take time for people to start bringing their own.

I was browsing through a bunch of green websites and blogs and I came across yours and found it very interesting. There are a bunch of others I like too, like the daily green, ecorazzi and I especially like’s carbon calculator ( I find it really easy to use (it doesn’t make me feel guilty after I take it).

Are there any others you would recommend? Can you drop me a link to your favorites (let me know if they are the same as mine).

Green Bean said...

Actually - and maybe it is because I live in the Bay Area - most people at my Whole Foods carry their own reusable bags. Our WF stopped using plastic in January or something and then did a bag giveaway where they gave away reusable bags to every customer for an entire day. I still wish they'd charge for people to get any bag but I guess it is a sign of progress.

organicneedle said...

Good bag news! Stop & Shop just added the whole nickel back policy. It is small but the fact that they are making policy changes shows that Bloomberg's efforts are paying off. (NYC just started making stores take back and recycle, or downcycle, their own plastic bags.)

Robj98168 said...

You know I have simular complaints about Trader Joe's and their use of Plastic Wrapping on their Fruits and vegetables- I mean who needs a hard plastic container with four pears surrounded by a plastic bag?!? I will say tho that our TJ's shoppers are pretty good about bringing thier own shopping bags- I was there the other dya and found I forgot mine- but luckily I had my back up plastic bag in the car! I save plastic bags and reuse them 10-15 times or until they fall apart!

Reuse This Bag said...

Great post! Disheartening for Whole Foods, as paper bags really aren't any better in some respects... I guess it's the thoguht that counts, but it seems like a bit of a superficial thought, no?