Plastic bags fall out of favor with merchants

A plastic bag is given out with a purchase at Walgreens on Green Street in Champaign, Wednesday. Erica Magda

A plastic bag is given out with a purchase at Walgreens on Green Street in Champaign, Wednesday. Erica Magda

By Melissa Silverberg

Consumers shopping at Whole Foods will no longer have the choice to bag their groceries in plastic after April 22. It will be the last day plastic bags will be used in any of its 270 stores worldwide.

Whole Foods, one of the largest natural and organic foods retailers in the world, made the decision to phase out plastic bags by Earth Day 2008 in an effort to help the environment and contribute to sustainability. Between Earth Day and the end of 2008, Whole Foods estimates that there will be 100 million fewer plastic bags in the environment.

“We are a company that believes in caring for the environment,” said Kate Klotz, spokeswoman for Whole Foods. “Issues of the environment are not going away.”

Plastic bags have drawn concerns about littering and the harm they may pose to sea life. According to the Environmental Resource Foundation Web site, plastic bags are partially made from petroleum, which further contributes to the U.S. dependence on oil.

Environmentalists have promoted more sustainable options concerning plastic bags in recent years. These options include either recycling or reusing the bags, or choosing to bring a reusable bag to the grocery store instead of picking plastic at the checkout line.

While Whole Foods will not provide plastic bags after Earth Day, it will still offer paper bags that are 80 percent made from recycled paper and sell bags made of recycled materials for 99 cents. Klotz said people who bring their own bags will receive 10 cents off their purchase price.

Environmental groups have even called for a tax on plastic bags to discourage consumers from using them. Nearly a year ago, San Francisco became the first city nationwide to ban the use of plastic bags. Since then, other cities, including Chicago, have discussed such a change.

The city of Champaign Planning Department has also been discussing issues concerning the use of plastic bags.

A new interchange opening at Curtis Road and I-57 in Champaign has a good chance of becoming commercially developed, according to the Champaign Planning Department. Some planners brought up the idea of enacting a ban on plastic bags as part of the deal for the area’s prospective developers, but nothing has been confirmed.

“Right now, it’s really just in the idea phase,” planner Lacey Rains said. “We aren’t moving forward yet.”

Mark Darling, chairman of the Plan Commission of the Champaign City Council, said he would support such an idea regarding plastic bags.

“That would be really great,” Darling said. “A lot of people are using cloth bags or bags that are reusable. It cuts down on all kinds of contaminants.”

Klotz said it takes more than 1,000 years for one plastic bag to completely break down. There are more than 100 billion plastic bags in the environment, she added.

“Any step will help with pollution,” Klotz said. “It’s the way of the future.”