Guest post by Katherine Lee
This Valentine’s Day, I am reflecting on an important relationship in my life. I regularly enjoy their company during our Sunday dates, we’re both proud Texans, and they always champion similar values and ensure that I am well-fed and happy. What more could anyone want in a partner, right? However, I recently noticed that while they say one thing, they do another. They claim that they value the community and the environment, but their actions are half-hearted. I know that they care, but I can’t see a future together without a behavior change. So, I think it’s time to tell Whole Foods that it must either ditch single-use plastic or lose me as a customer.
When Whole Foods first came to my attention, I was inspired by its dedication to the environment. The supermarket declares that its purpose is to “nourish people and the planet,” and it was the first U.S. grocer to eliminate plastic bags at checkout in 2008. The Market also banned plastic straws during the #SavetheTurtles movement in 2019. But, like so many toxic relationships, it keeps crawling back to single-use plastics. A 2020 report by As You Sow gave Whole Foods an “F” for its policies and practices on reducing plastic packaging waste. The market chain failed to reduce its plastic packaging, implement reusable packaging, and publicly report on its plastic footprint.
This report is a red flag: Whole Foods knows that plastic plagues our environment long after its usefulness and that it poses a serious threat to our lands and health. So far, researchers observed almost 700 marine species suffering from contact with plastic via ingestion, entanglement, and smothering. Every year, this form of pollution kills more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds. Texas ranchers also report the tragic deaths of their horses and other livestock at the hands of plastic waste. Single-use bags are infamous for causing suffocation and fatal digestion blockages in animals. But not only does this pollution kill wildlife, it harms human health. Plastic is excellent at absorbing harmful toxins from outside sources before entering the ocean. Then, when this plastic is swallowed by marine life, the toxins travel up the food chain and into the food we eat. I wish I could say that the end to these issues is near, but, unfortunately, plastic isn’t going away anytime soon. Production is expected to increase by 40% in the next ten years, and the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. During summer fishing trips to the Gulf of Mexico, you will have a higher likelihood of reeling in plastic bottles, bags, and wrappers than red snapper!
Everybody deserves to be in a happy and healthy, sustainable relationship. But we all know that change doesn’t come easily. This reality is why Environment Texas and other community-based groups are offering to help Whole Foods break up with plastic once and for all. Zero-waste operations are far from impossible, one of the Market’s peers promised to banish single-use plastics from their operations by 2025. However, while other stores make progress, Whole Foods remains radio silent; CEO John Mackey did not respond to our letters and attempts to help. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Whole Foods must reflect on which relationships serve more harm than good. Prioritizing the health of Texas wildlife over the short-lived convenience of plastic is common sense.
As Texans, we all understand the importance of keeping Texas beautiful. Therefore, we must band together to demand that Whole Foods end its toxic addiction to single-use plastic. To help, please sign Environment Texas’s petition to tell Whole Foods, “Planet over plastic!” Every signature packs a punch in the fight against plastic pollution.
Katherine Lee is a senior at UT Austin and intern with Environment Texas' Wildlife Over Waste campaign.