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Whole Foods Market will begin offering Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper bags at its checkout counters next month.
"Whole Foods Market is [setting] the bar even higher in terms of reducing our environmental impact with paper bags that close the loop with 100 percent post-consumer reclaimed material," said Michael Besancon, Whole Foods senior global VP of purchasing, distribution and marketing. "The chain-of-custody that our paper bags have attained means these bags can be tracked throughout the supply chain -- from post-consumer waste through processing and distribution to the shopper toting home groceries, all the while reducing pressure on virgin forests and protecting biodiversity."
The Minneapolis-based FSC, an international nonprofit that promotes the responsible management of the world's forests, offers a comprehensive standard for certification of forest products. FSC-certified paper can originate from post-consumer recycled fiber or from forests certified according to the FSC's forest management standards. The FSC's independently verified chain-of-custody system requires paper producers to track their certified fiber throughout the production and distribution process. Because of its high standards and independence from the timber industry, the FSC is considered by environmental organizations around the world to be the gold standard for forest product certification, according to Whole Foods.
"Whole Foods Market's decision to provide FSC-certified grocery bags sets a tremendous example for its industry peers," said Corey Brinkema, FSC-United States president. "It also helps educate its customers about the importance of forest stewardship."
Previously, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods was the first national retailer to offer 100 percent recycled (60 percent post-industrial/40 percent post-consumer) paper bags at its checkouts. FSC certification on paper bags made from 100 percent post-consumer reclaimed material is another first for the natural and organic foods retailer. Post-consumer reclaimed material typically comes from corrugated boxes that might have held food or other products that have been shipped to various retail outlets. This repurposing is important in a country that is the biggest market for paper products globally, producing 90 million tons of paper and consuming 100 million tons of paper each year, according to the FSC.
"While bringing your own reusable bag is always the best choice, Whole Foods Market's switch to FSC-certified bags made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content is a great step forward,” said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “This move virtually eliminates the bags' impact on forests and also sends a strong signal to other businesses that making the right environmental choices is possible. Consumers want and deserve better environmental options when they open their wallets. Whole Foods is delivering those options, both with this new bag and with its previous efforts to promote reusable bags, as well as protect endangered forests and prevent native forests from being converted to tree plantations."
Whole Foods continues to offer shoppers who bring their own bags a refund of either five or 10 cents at the checkouts, depending on the store, and estimates that reusable bag use has tripled since the company banned plastic bags from its checkouts last year, with approximately 150 million bags being kept out of landfills and the environment. The company sells a variety of reusable bags, ranging from "A Better Bag," which retails for 79 and 99 cents, depending on size -- with 80 percent of its content coming from recycled plastic bottles and currently featuring a Sheryl Crow-created charcoal sketch of a tree, to the $29.99 cotton-and-burlap FEED 100 bag. A FEED bag purchase helps provide 100 nutritious lunches to Rwandan schoolchildren through the United Nations World Food Program's School Feeding Program.
Additionally, Whole Foods teamed this month with Mohawk Fine Papers to be the first national retailer to create all of its nationally produced, in-store Earth Month materials using "third-generation" closed-loop recycled paper. This means that the company is using marketing material overages from the previous year, which were printed on paper made from 100 percent post-consumer waste, sent to a de-inker, made into pulp and sent back to the same paper mill that produced it, to be recycled anew into this year's Earth Month materials. All aspects of the third-generation closed-loop process have occurred domestically, eliminating the need to ship pulp out of the country and back again, which is currently the norm.
According to Whole Foods, this process has preserved 192 trees and has prevented more than 9,000 pounds of solid waste and close to 20,000 pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the environment.