Requiem for the plastic bag
The not-quite-as-ubiquitous plastic grocery bag took another big hit Thursday. The nation’s largest grocery chain, Kroger Co. — parent of Mariano’s — declared that it would phase out single-use plastic bags from its nearly 2,800 stores by 2025.
Kroger orders about 6 billion bags a year — yes, billion. So this isn’t a minor ripple. It should accelerate the slide of plastic bags into oblivion, at least in the U.S. We realize that dog owners will have to find another means to scoop and workers will have to find another vessel in which to ferry lunch.
Sorry, folks, but there’s a greater good here. Billions of bags are tossed out every year in the U.S. Many of those bags, and other plastic waste, wind up littering the world’s oceans, lakes, beaches, parkways and streets. These bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
Are American consumers ready for this shift? Kroger, which says it “listens closely” to customers’ concerns, thinks so. As do we.
Most of the plastic produced since the dawn of the Plastic Age after World War II — more than 9 billion tons — is still around, cluttering up the planet. On the current pollution trajectory, researchers say plastic refuse in oceans could exceed fish, ton for ton, in three decades. Or, as one scientist chillingly notes, for every pound of tuna taken out of the ocean, people are dumping two pounds of plastic in.
People carelessly tossed trash out the car window, on sidewalks and on the beach until public education campaigns at least made many of them feel guilty about it. Millions of Americans no longer litter. Many of them also shun plastic bags and other one-and-done plastic containers.
The bags and other single-use plastic items like straws are drawing the evil eye from food purveyors and other retailers who seek to promote themselves as green.
Starbucks, Disney, Marriott, Hyatt Hotels, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and McDonald’s are among the companies moving to dump plastic straws. McDonald’s is also pledging to use only recycled or other environmentally friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025. Dunkin’ Donuts vows to eliminate polystyrene foam cups by 2020. Ikea plans to eliminate single-use plastic products by 2020.
We hope the Kroger move encourages even more companies to follow suit.
To save the planet’s oceans and lakes, however, companies and consumers will need to do more than swear off plastic bags and straws. Waste handling systems have to improve worldwide, particularly in countries that now struggle to deal with plastic litter. The prime mover here is rising public awareness — and a resulting willingness of many among us to make modest lifestyle changes. Some stores even reward customers with cash back or other bonuses to forgo plastic bags.
Stash a few reusable bags in the trunk. Use them. Once you get into the habit, you’ll be surprised how quickly you forget that you ever relied on out-of-fashion plastic.