Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The truth about Whole Foods "new" 100% recycled bag initiative

In January Whole Foods announced that it would stop offering its customers plastic bags by Earth Day 2008 (April 22).  While I initially commended the company for taking such a great initiative to reduce our landfills and stop clogging our waterways of plastic, they are now proudly offering their customers 100% recycling paper bags.   100% recycled? You mean the bags are made from the paper we put on our curbside?  

Whole Foods, let's be honest. Yes you are a great company, and sell great products, but this claim is deceptive to your consumer who think of you as the authority on everything good for you and the environment. 

As child of a printing family, the 100% recycled paper bags now offered at Whole Foods got me thinking. Growing up, I used to go to my dad's printing plant and see paper scraps left over from the printing process being sent back to be recycled. This was standard practice.  

So when I went food shopping recently at Whole Foods and saw the paper bags, I had to question it.  100% recycled, really?  What percentage is really from waste from the consumer? Or curbside recycling?

Well, according a Whole Foods public relations representative, the recycled fiber content is 40% post consumer and 60% post industrial (waste).  She stated, "we (Whole Foods) are excited to be moving away from any virgin fiber materials in our paper bags."

Post consumer? Post industrial?  What does that mean?  Well, listen-up.  

Post-consumer waste is paper that has been purchased and used by the consumer (you and me) and recycled by the municipal and private sector recycling system -- curbside recycling. What we the public accept has the definition of recycled.

Post-industrial waste is otherwise known as pre-consumer waste.  It is the reintroduction of manufacturing scrap (trimmings from paper production) back into the manufacturing process. Basically it is the paper made out of paper trimmings and scraps left over from the manufacturing process. Just like I saw in my dad's printing plant more than 20 years ago.  

Pre-consumer, or as Whole Foods calls it post-industrial, is used in the manufacturing industry and in the traditional sense, is not considered recycled. For decades, pre-consumer paper waste has been recycled.  The paper was never marked recycled because manufacturers never got credit for it. But in the 1980's when the demand for recycled paper began to rise, producers began to claim pre-consumer waste as recycled fiber.  However, there had been no change in their manufacturing practices.   

Paper grocery bags are customarily made of pre-consumer (post-industrial) recycled paper -- from 40-90% of the material.  So in reality, Whole Foods is not doing anything new.  It is basically a "green" public relations stunt to make them look better in the marketplace.   This is a practice known as "greenwashing" and as a committed environmentalist, I find it a bit offensive.

Forty percent post-consumer waste, that is it?  A company like Whole Foods who has based their entire brand and position in the marketplace as being better for you, better for the environment, can do better or a least be honest about their claims.  Nowhere on the bag does it reveal any of this information.  

Come on Whole Foods, give us the Whole Truth.

To learn more about federal guidelines for the use of environmental marketing claims go to the Federal Trade Commission site.


brenda said...

I've got to say I always thought Whole Foods was in the biz for the money.....they're prices have always been outrageous so I'm not suprised by anything they do. Sorry I've gotten so cynical I hardly believe anything that the suits(even the "greensuits") spout!


thewordisberry said...

great clarification - greenwash is getting harder and harder to avoid, unfortunately. :(

Lucia said...

Well, 40% is only a little. A lot of this is marketing. People are so willing to become green and they do a pretty good job, but in the same time the companies are taking advantage of this. This was a great article and ...uuufff, yeah, I am disappointed too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information. We are actively going after businesses to convert them to truly green products and uncover green wash. Grocery bags are on top of our agenda. Please contact us so we can stay in touch on this subject and potentially work together.

Thank you



Ecological Coordinator
Earth Community Alliance
Portland, OR
Planet Earth