Too Much of a Good Thing

Photo by The Good Burger

By Howie Goldfinger, CEO, Ecorite

I recently read an upsetting story about certain Walmart® customers that order groceries delivered from the company are finding themselves hip-deep in new reusable bags that groceries are delivered in, after the company switched to reusable bags in April of 2022. The writer concludes that “the war on plastic bags has had an unintended consequence” of creating mountains of waste of a different kind.

Ecorite sells the same types of bags that Walmart uses for its grocery deliveries – non-woven polypropylene.  According to the article, quoting the U.N. Environment Program, this type of bag must be used 10-20 times before it is more environmentally friendly than a single-use plastic bag. For many grocery shoppers, that is precisely what they do when they return to the grocery store.  The case emerging for certain of Walmart grocery shoppers, is that bags travel only in one direction, as these customers seldom, if ever, return to the store.  Under these circumstances, it is easy to envision a situation where these consumers are receiving far more bags than they can ever feasibly reuse.  When interviewed by the CBC reporter, one frustrated customer expressed that his predicament was caused by a failure of policy and is hoping the company creates a solution.

We believe that most, if not all our customers, are genuinely interested in seeing their products reused -after all, their bags have their company’s branding on them, and their reuse constitutes both brand reinforcement for the user and free advertising to anybody else that sees it.  But they typically don’t buy their bags on the scale that Walmart does and don’t use them simply as a vehicle to transport their products.  Therefore, the question is whether Walmart’s early adoption of reusable bags was nothing more than ‘greenwashing’ or was the company truly interested in reducing the amount of planetary waste? If the answer is the latter, then it should be incumbent upon the company to develop a recycling/return policy for their bags, more than simply encouraging responsible reuse. The same holds true for any large-scale grocers and other delivery services that know or suspect that the bags are headed on a one-way trip. Another alternative may be to construct a bag for one-way trips that are biodegradable, so that they can be put into the compost bin once they have served their primary purpose.

Source: Harris, Sophia (2022). Walmart’s plastic bag ban leaves some customers saddled with mounds of reusable bags. Walmart’s plastic bag ban leaves some customers saddled with mounds of reusable bags.