Wal-Mart May Remove 9 Million Plastic Bags from the Waste Stream – Big Whoop

no plastic bagsI’m in a foul mood today, people. The government is in talks to give away 700 billion dollars to companies who have proven to be irresponsible with money. The entire blogosphere is whining about Senator McCain being in Washington trying to do a job he was elected to do instead of being at a debate that could easily be pushed back a week. I would expect every official who the people have elected to do a job to be on that job in a crisis of this magnitude. I’m usually pretty easy going, but this has just set me off.

And so today when I read about Wal-Mart saying it will “potentially” cut its plastic bag usage by 1/3 by the year 2013, where I might normally say “good for them,” I’m saying, “big deal.” You might cut your plastic bag usage by 1/3 in five years. Big whoop.

There are so many problems that are difficult to fix when it comes to the enviroment. But the whole plastic bag problem is really not that hard to fix. Stores can just stop using them like Whole Foods has. Or, if you feel you must offer them to your customers, charge them for the bags. Just ask Ikea. When they started charging for plastic bags, people found they didn’t need them so much.

I know that Wal-mart is making some impressive strides towards being more sustainable. I understand that they are only stocking their shelves with concentrated laundry detergent which is more environmentally friendly because it uses less water and less packaging. I know that they have placed green roofs on some of their stores. Those things are to be commended. But this possible 1/3 reduction in plastic bags just seems like placing a bandaid on a severed limb. A good intention but just not good enough.

What do you think? Do you think this is impressive? Or are you all cranky like me today and saying, “Big Whoop?”

Image courtesy of flickr

  1. Adrienne

    I’m in the cranky camp today, also. Big whoop, indeed. But you know what makes me angrier? The grocery stores who have started using thinner, flimsier plastic bags. I carry re-usable bags, but we all occasionally forget, and when I do, they just DOUBLE bag things anyway. Argh.

  2. Robin Shreeves

    Ya, the double bagging thing gets me, too. Or when I ask for paper ONLY please, and the paper bag gets stuck inside a plastic bag.

    I think the cashiers are so automatic with their actions that they don’t even always realize they are doing it.

  3. Justin Van Kleeck

    Dish out that funk, Robin. I am with you on this, too. While I think corporations like Wal-Mart are crucial partners for environmentalism, this sort of thing is just for saving face and greenwashing. As an English doctor, that “could” language is so atrociously fuzzy as to be worthless. Whatever Wal-Mart does or does not do, I wish they would not insult our intelligence. Now I feel even better about my boycott….

    Thank you for this, Mean Green Robin.

  4. The

    By the year 1013?! I don’t see how they can reduce plastic bags in the past. If they can that is impressive and shouldn’t considered a “big whoop”.

  5. TKTT1

    Sure, this is just a drop in the bucket (if it even happens), but it is a move in the right direction. All anyone thinks about with high oil prices is gasoline, but all the plastic packaging and bags use huge amounts of oil to produce, and we can do without most of it. Paper based packaging is not only renewable, it is biodegradable and/or recyclable. Until we are willing to stop using plastic and other oil derivatives when other alternatives are available and encourage business to do the same, the oil issue will not go away.

  6. Robin

    Justin – Mean Green Robin is just about the best name anyone’s called me since my high school students dubbed me the “Shreevinator.”

    The – Oops. Thanks for catching my typo. I’ve corrected it.

    TKTT1 – True – it is a move in the right direction. It just seems that on this issue though, it would be easy for that move to be a giant leap instead of just a small step. Paper does seem a bit more responsible than plastic IF it is created, recycled and disposed of in a sustainable manner, but really reusable bags are the best bet.

  7. Lakeview

    I don’t doubt Walmart’s sincerity — after all, being green means being efficient. But let’s not give them any awards yet. This is a company whose stores take up more square mileage nationwide than the entire island of Manhattan. This is chain that will pave wetlands in a heartbeat for a new Supercenter. This is a company with thousands of polluting trucks. They don’t give a lick about the environment — so let’s reserve our praise for now.

  8. Melonie (Momma & More)

    I’m with you in spirit, but I’m not totally cranky about it (well, not the Wal-Mart part lol). When I think in sheer volume, 1/3 of the bags is still a heckuva lot of them considering how much business ol’ Wally World does in a day or a year. However, the “potentially” thing stands out. I’d be a lot more impressed if they said we WILL do this. *sigh*

    Now about the blogosphere whining…you hit the nail on the heat with this line:
    “I would expect every official who the people have elected to do a job to be on that job in a crisis of this magnitude.”

    YOU SAID IT! πŸ™‚

  9. Robin Shreeves

    Lakeview – Have they actually paved wetlands or are you just not putting it past them?

    My first thought when I read your comment was, “If you build it, they will come.” We can say all we want to about their practices and irresponsible behavior, but the fact is millions of people flock to their stores. They certainly need to change many of their practices but the American consumer needs to change their shopping habits, also. We need to be willing to pay a little more for items from local shops instead of big box stores. We’ve had the mindset for so long to get “the most bang for our buck” that we insist that getting the lowest price on an item is the most bang. Quality and supporting local business have somehow become less important than low, low, prices. This isn’t just a Wal-Mart thing. It’s an American thing.

  10. Robin Shreeves

    Melonie – I’ve been waiting for someone to comment on that. I’ve always been amazed that our elected officials can basically ignore their paying job while they are running for another office. It’s not just presidential candidates – it seems to be all elected Washington officials. Why do they get to do that? Why don’t they have to step down from their current position if they are going to be putting all their time into basically what is the equivalent of a job search for the rest of us.

    When I was teaching full time I could have never told my superintendent, “hey, I’m going to try to get a more prestigious job. I’ll be absent from school 90% of the time. Just send my paycheck to my house because I won’t be there to collect it.”

  11. Ben

    Like most things, it is the result of ignorance. If people understood the potential harm that came along with their idea of convenience, they may choose better options.

    I actually bought a couple of the reusable bags the last time I was back home in Alabama. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart dominates the shopping market in my home town. After purchasing the bags, the clerk puts them inside another plastic bag. I tried to explain to her that I would use them for everything else, but she just looked at me like I was crazy. I was forced to bag my own items. It was pathetic. The employees have no clue about sustainability, even when their own products promote it.

  12. Robin Shreeves

    Ben – I do think that the cashiers need to have some education on the whole bag issue. The store that I shop at has reusable bags for sale at each check out line for 99 cents and also offers a wide variety of organic/natural foods so you would think that all cashiers would be required to be aware of the bag issue. But many times, they wrap things like meat or detergent in a plastic bag and then put it in the reusable bag even though I’ve asked them not to at the beginning – it’s kind of automatic for them.

    What always cracks me up is when I go into a store for one item and tell the cashier I don’t need a bag and the cashier will ask two or three times, “Are you sure?” with a bewildered look.

    What I’ve noticed in some of the local businesses lately, though, like my favorite used cd store or my local coffee house when I take my husband home a breakfast sandwich, is the cashier will say, “You don’t need a bag, do you?” I love this! I don’t see it happening in national chain stores but in little local places, they are catching on.

  13. greg

    Political comment: Neither McCain nor Obama did anything to more the bailout legislation along…McCain just wanted to ‘up’ his political clout when it comes to the economy. I wanted them both to stay out of Washington during these negotiations.

    Walmart Bags: I’m with you. What we need is a large, significant store that serves the masses to make a big bodacious statement and say “no more plastic”. That will (1) make great press for Walmart, (2) piss some people off who will still shop there anyway, and (3) force some people to take at least that one step in their everyday life to become more Green…which might inspire them to take more.

  14. jacci

    I agree “BIG WHOOP” 1/3 is a start, but why not just do away with them altogether?

    Here in Cape Town we have to pay for shopping bags, so many of us use old bags or fabric bags. Great, but now if you blink the packers put your things into small thin clear plastic bags and then into your fabric bag – huh? Also the 20c per bag has become what people factor into the bill, so bag usage creeps up again.

    I am quite militant with the no plastic bag thank you. I also unwrap any leave any unessesary wrappings at the tilpoint. It is amazing what gets wrapped, tell me why a cucumber has to be shrink wrapped in plastic? Or an avocado?

    The slowly, slowly, catchee monkey approach will not work in ‘planet saving’ so I say BAN the bag.

  15. Robin Shreeves

    Greg – It would be great if Wal-mart or Target said “no more plastic bags.” I don’t shop at the BJ’s anymore (it’s like a Sams Club or a Costco) but they never had any bags at all and people just accepted it. They would have a huge bin full of boxes that their stock had been shipped in that customers could take, but at check out the cashier just took my items out of one basket, scanned them, then put them into another basket. People just accepted loading a whole shopping cart full of items that weren’t bagged into the back of their cars.

    I think that the public is more adaptable than some may think. Sure there might be whining at first, but after a while, people will just get used to bringing their own bags or doing without.

  16. Robin Shreeves

    Jacci – exactly, why not ban them all together?

    It’s not surprising that many people will accept a 20 cent charge for a plastic bag. We’ve come to expect convenience and are willing to pay a hefty price for it. Unfortunately, many people think that the only price being paid for that convenience is monetary. They don’t think about the environmental or social price that is paid, too.

  17. Cris Dobbins

    Big Woopty indeed! I mean really is anyone meant to be impressed by this!? I do not think this is a move in the right direction at all. We need these big companies with the money and power to be leaders! Is this a joke? 5 years? Really? So sad.
    Robin, you got me all fired up πŸ™‚

  18. Robin Shreeves

    Chris – I think the five years is the least impressive part of their proposal. If they had said reduced by 1/3 in 6 months, 1/2 in 18 months and fully in five years (or something similar), and without the “potential” word thrown in – it may be something to feel good about.

    When Whole Foods and Ikea did it – they set a goal in months. I understand that Wal-Mart is so much bigger than either of those other stores, but their size gives them the opportunity to create even that much more of a positive impact.

  19. Ross

    Plastice bags break down when exposed to the elements. It may take awhile, but they do. What concerns me is the stuff that big stores throw away that will not break down and could be recycled. I know for a fact that certain stores throw away tools, cabinets, display racks, lumber, hardware, electronics, etc. Why? Because they are last years model, or there is only one left, or maybe they are missing one or two parts that could be easliy fixed or replaced. Or they have minor damage that does not affect their performance, but is unsightly. It is cheaper to throw away than try to recycle or donate the items. It’s sad how we as American’s waste so much.

  20. Banana Diana

    Could the cashiers possibly be trained to ask if the customer would like to purchase a reusable bag…like they are trained to ask if you would like to get another credit card. This wouldn’t cost anything. Maybe they could make a deal if the customer were to buy 5 and pay for 4. Small ideas could make tons of difference.

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