Together to “break” with plastic pollution

If we suspended all global plastic production today, the existing plastic pollution in our oceans and on land would be continue to hurt our natural ecosystems, wildlife and public health for decades to come. Because once plastic enters our environment, it will persist for life.

These are the conclusions of a World Wildlife Fund 2021 review of nearly 2,600 research papers on marine plastic pollution. Even if no more plastic enters our environment, the article concludes that it is nearly impossible to remove existing plastic waste from our oceans. Microplastic particles as well as larger pieces of plastic waste can be found in the the most remote parts of our oceans, stuck in arctic ice caps, buried deep on the ocean floorand in the bodies of fish, marine mammals and humans. A plastic bag or straw that we only use for five minutes will continue to pollute our environment, harm wildlife and threaten public health for thousands of years.

For years, environmental groups and zero waste activists have been pointing this out. But studies like the one from the World Wildlife Fund reinforce the fact that marine plastic pollution is an increasingly alarming global crisis and will continue to get worse – even if “an important action” is taken today to prevent more plastic from entering our oceans.

Given the stakes, we must act now to curb the creation of more plastic waste. From the legislature to the boardroom, there are many ways to fight plastic waste. But one of the first players to tackle this problem is the American “green” grocer: Whole Foods.

Whole Foods, and companies like it, are in a unique position to lead the way to a plastic-free future.

Single-use plastic packaging, including food packaging, is a major source of pollution, representing 40% of our total plastic production. Whole Foods has been a leader in sustainability in the past. They were the first US grocer to eliminate plastic bags at the checkouts in 2008, and more recently, they eliminated plastic straws and styrofoam shelves of their stores.

But since then, the high-level marketing channel has fallen short of its competitors. Over the past two years, Whole Foods has received a ‘F’ from As You Sow for not having a strong plan to tackle plastic waste. Clearly, the company could do something to protect our oceans, waterways and wildlife, but it won’t do it alone.

There is no doubt that governments are taking action. More than 150 countries have recently taken the first steps towards a global treaty to reduce plastic waste as part of the 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) This effort paves the way for a legally binding agreement that covers the entire life cycle of plastic – from extraction and production to disposal . In particular, it will include measures to reduce the amount of unnecessary single-use plastics produced worldwide.

But negotiations can take years, and implementing a treaty can take even longer.

That’s why we coordinated a week of action calling on Whole Foods Market to ‘break away’ from single-use plastic packaging this past Valentine’s Day. Our plastic problem is too serious to take more time to act. Unsurprisingly, passionate customers speaking out on social media are one of the best ways to pressure the company into action.

Throughout the week, we’ve helped thousands of consumers like, comment, share and repost to steer Whole Foods away from single-use plastic. Here’s what some of our action week participants said:

  • “I stopped shopping at your store due to concerns about all the plastic. I love your products and would happily return if you make a change.
  • “It’s time to end our addiction to single-use plastic, especially if we want our children and grandchildren to have a habitable planet. Not to mention the wildlife, forests and all the other wonderful living things on this planet. .
  • “Whole Foods, you have been the leader in stopping using plastic bags and encouraging customers to bring their own bags. And you made that change very quickly. You have the power to increase your impact again by eliminating single-use plastic from your stores. Make it happen!!!”
  • “Whole Foods, please DO YOUR PART to end the use of single-use plastic! Thank you!”

It’s clear that Whole Foods customers expect the company to uphold high environmental standards and take the lead in protecting the environment, as they have in the past. Plastic pollution will continue to threaten the health of humans, wildlife and our natural spaces. But how much we produce and how badly we harm our environment and our public health will largely depend on what our governments, businesses and grocery stores — like Whole Foods — do today.

As efforts to ratify a global plastics treaty continue, we can and must use our voices to call for immediate action from Whole Foods and other companies, who have the ability to eliminate plastic from their operations and to lead us towards a plastic-free world.

Photo: Garbage on the Singapore ECP by Vaidehi Shah via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Bryce K. Locke