Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket, announced on January 22 that it will end the use of disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts in all of its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. with the goal to be plastic bag-free by Earth Day, April 22.
Stores in the Austin, Texas-based chain have been encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags by offering refunds of either five or ten cents at the checkouts. The stores also sell reusable bags made either from cloth or the new “A Better Bag,” made mostly from recycled plastic bottles.
Over the next three months, Whole Foods outlets will increase supplies of reusable bags for sale and reduce their stocks of plastic bags. The stores will also offer 100 percent recycled paper grocery bags for those who want them.
“Central to Whole Foods Market’s core values is caring for our communities and the environment, and this includes adopting wise environmental practices,” says A.C. Gallo, co-president and COO for Whole Foods Market.
Gallo adds that prior to adopting the plastic-free policy, Whole Foods tested the concept at stores in San Francisco, Toronto, and Austin.
Locally, Mike Bowen, team leader for Whole Foods of Santa Monica, told the Mirror that customers have been moving in a plastic-free direction for some time.
“We had a day in January [in which] we did not use any of our plastic bags and we encouraged people to just use paper. Many of them were bringing back their own reusable bags anyway. So it was pretty well received. But we’ve been sending the message out for some time now, for about a year. Back maybe two years ago, five percent of our customers were reusing. Now it’s closer to 30 percent. So the fact that we are deleting our plastic bags is well-received in Santa Monica.”
Bowen doesn’t know yet what kind of festivities the store will be planning for April 22 but notes: “I’m sure it will be a big day for us.
“Until that day we are educating our customers to buy the canvas bags or the reusable bags. We have them for 99¢ and we probably sell about 100 a day.
“Everybody’s been so supportive of this. The fact that we’re so close to the water – everybody’s aware of what it’s doing to the beach.”
Matthew King, Communications Director for Heal the Bay, comments: “We were pleasantly surprised to see Whole Foods take this bold and decisive action. We think that it’s a smart business move, a smart move for the local economy, and obviously, for the environment. Most importantly we want to salute those businesses that are taking a pro-active step and leading by example and we hope that local retailers will see that this is not only smart for their business but smart for the local communities and the environment at large.”
Whole Foods’ announcement came on the same day that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors refused to ban plastic bags in LA County, instead passing a measure calling for voluntary bans on plastic by local merchants.
The Santa Monica City Council will be considering a stringent ban on plastic bag use at its February 19 meeting.