Wal-Mart and Ikea aim to curb plastic bag use
Wal-Mart Stores Inc will give out fewer plastic shopping bags, and encourage shoppers to reuse and recycle them, as the retailer aims to slash its plastic bag waste by a third worldwide by 2013.
Environmental Leader 10.06.08
IKEA announced that starting this month, the company will no longer be offering plastic or paper bags at any of its U.S. stores. They will only offer reusable bags.
Our Take: Ikea’s plastic bag ban has great sound bite appeal and while we applaud Wal-Mart for doing some of the harder work to reduce consumption, cheap reusable bags aren’t going to solve the problem either. Let’s not forget, part of Wal-Mart’s strategy is to have millions of people carrying around reusable shopping bags with their logo. It’s a crafty form of free advertising for the company that shouts “Wal-Mart’s green!”
We’d love to see both retailers adopt some of the progressive tactics of other retailers – charge for plastic bags and offer a credit for any reusable shopping bag customers bring with them.
Follow-up: We understand that it seems confusing we’d be bashing retailers for offering cheap reusable bags. As some of you have commented, isn’t any reusable shopping bag a step in the right direction? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “no.”
First and foremost, are most of us using the reusable bags offered by retailers at low or no cost? Or are the vast majority accumulating in our closets as more unwanted freebies? When Australia made the transition to reusable bags a few years ahead of us, data indicated that few of the cheap bags from retailers were being used in the spirit of reducing consumption. Rather, they were sitting at home or going straight into the trash, like their disposable cousins.
Then there’s the impact of the bags to consider. Reusable shopping bags that are irresponsibly made are no better than disposable plastic or paper bags and—in some cases—they’re worse. The branded reusable shopping bags you see at most retailers these days are made of poor-quality materials, which means they won’t last, doing little to reduce wasteful consumption of bags since you’ll need a replacement. And yet, these same reusable bags require more energy to produce and are slower to break down in landfills than the disposable bags they’re replacing. Sounds pretty inefficient.
This issue goes beyond green-washing, in which retailers attempt to pose as environmentally concerned (we get that we live in an image-driven, capitalist society). The real problem is that a lack of critical-thinking about these ubiquitous reusable bags puts us at risk of replacing one harmful habit with another, and getting nowhere. Here's a link to our article with more on the issue. Thanks for listening.