No more bags: Whole Foods' latest push for green

In the interests of total disclosure, I'm going to begin by admitting that I don't like shopping at Whole Foods. I find the stores almost obscenely expensive, irritatingly self-righteous, and badly laid out. Beyond that, they are generally filled with snotty, self-obsessed yuppies, who have a tendency to step on my feet. By the time I leave, I usually have mashed toes, a bag full of overpriced delicacies, and the feeling that I've been manipulated into shelling out way too much money. It's gotten to the point that even my massively overdeveloped sense of liberal guilt is no longer strong enough to inspire me to shop at the temple of holy greenitude.

That having been said, I have to (grudgingly) admit that I'm impressed by Whole Foods' recent environmentally-sound actions. Its decision to use fuel cells to help power a store in Connecticut struck me as a bold and impressive move, and I'm hoping that other stores, schools, and institutions will follow its lead. I also feel like it puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to donating funds to environmental causes. And, last but not least, it carries an impressive selection of organic foods, even if it still uses a bit more high fructose corn syrup than I would like.

Its most recent move, though, gives me mixed feelings. Last month, Whole Foods announced that, starting on April 22, it will no longer bag its customers' groceries. Having experimented with going bagless in San Francisco, it has discovered that the idea works, and are determined to try it out across the country. For customers who forget to bring their own bags, Whole Foods will continue to sell reusable, recycled totes.

While I'm sure that Whole Foods' decision to go bagless is largely inspired by the environmental impact of plastic grocery bags, I doubt that that's the whole story. After all, the supermarket has encouraged people to go bagless for a while, offering customers a steep discount if they bought the store's reusable totes. As tote usage is no longer voluntary, I wonder if the generous discount will still hold. Furthermore, as it will no longer be distributing over 150 million plastic bags a year, Whole Foods is bound to save a whole lot of money. I wonder if these savings influenced their decision?

I'm a little more impressed by the way that Trader Joe's handles the bagging question. It, like Whole Foods, offers totes for sale and encourages customers to bring their own sacks, but it also sweetens the deal by holding a weekly drawing. Essentially, customers who bring their own bags are entered into the drawing and the winner receives a store gift certificate. T-J's approach is fun, inexpensive, and allows the customers to make their own decisions about the environment, rather than having a conclusion dictated to them.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Yes, he brings his own bags to Trader Joe's, although he has yet to win the drawing. Someday, though...

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