Wal-Mart is taking its waste-reducing initiative to its cash registers, with a new goal to reduce plastic bag use by one-third in the next five years. That amounts to eliminating 135 million pounds of plastic waste, and the equivalent demand for petroleum needed to manufacture the bags.
Wal-Mart has made waves in recent years demanding more efficiency and less waste from its vast supply chain, improving both its bottom line and environmental impact. The world's largest retailer has won begrudging respect from some environmental advocates for its recent actions, after decades as an outsize villain representing suburban sprawl, consumption and disregard for the means in its single-minded pursuit of ends (cheaply priced consumer goods).
The Environmental Defense Fund is the latest apparent convert. It will consult with Wal-Mart to design, measure and assess the success of its plastic bag waste reduction initiative.
Plastic bags are made from oil, create litter, choke ocean wildlife and are completely unnecessary. Changing customer habits, so that reusable bags become the norm, is one goal of Wal-Mart's initiative, and it's a worthy one.
(Of course, as the Wall Street Journal points out today, reminding us of something that has been bugging The Daily Green staff lately, reusable bags only reduce waste if you actually use them, rather than letting multiple reusable bags pile up in the closet. They do, in many cases, take more energy to manufacture, and more time to degrade, than thin plastic bags.)
The initiative demonstrates several lessons. Among them: Companies have been responsible for tremendous waste, but when they make decisions with sustainability in mind, they can multiply the good individuals do many times over.
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