It may have been a small group Thursday delivering a petition asking Target to ban plastic bags.

However, the petition with 455,000 signatures is's largest environmental petition in 2019, said Michael Jones, managing director of campaigns for the petition site.

A group of 18 led by Theresa Carter — a former Minneapolis patent attorney and stay-at-home mother who launched the petition on in April — dropped off four boxes with the signatures at a side entrance to Target's downtown Minneapolis headquarters.

"I hope Target listens and takes this step in their sustainability journey," said Carter, who launched the petition on earlier this year. "If Target makes this change, a lot of other stores would as well."

Carter launched an initiative called Customers Who Care in March. She hopes to pressure the retailer to join Costco and Ikea to stop using plastic bags at its 1,800 stores. Kroger, the nation's largest grocery chain behind Walmart, has pledged to eliminate single-use plastic bags by 2025.

"Plastic bags never truly go away and have a massive impact on the environment," Carter said. "We want Target to know that ultimately its customers will love them for doing the right thing for the planet."

Target Corp. sent a media representative to retrieve the boxes. She shook hands with the group and thanked them for their interest but took no questions from reporters. It was not immediately clear what the retailer would do with the boxes or to address the group's concerns.

The United States generates more than 4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). About 13% is recycled.

Plastic doesn't degrade, and can threaten wildlife. Studies on dead turtles have found that more than 50% have plastic in their stomachs.

Similarly, seabirds, fish and other marine animals mistake pieces of plastic for food, or become entangled in it, leading to exhaustion, starvation and eventual death, according to an EPA blog.

Eight states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont — have banned single-use plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Minneapolis and Duluth have taken steps recently to require retailers to charge customers who use plastic bags.

Target spokeswoman Danielle Schumann said in a statement that the retailer has taken several steps to reduce its use of plastic, including sustainable packaging goals and using plastic bags that are now made with 40% recycled content.

Target began placing recycling kiosks, including for plastic bags, at the front of its stores in 2010.

"Target teams across the business are working to eliminate, reduce and find alternatives for plastics in our products, packaging and operations," said Schumann, adding the retailer would have no comment beyond the statement.

For consumers, switching to paper is not the answer, Carter argues in the petition. Paper bags create a bigger carbon footprint because the process burns more energy and creates more pollutants while cutting down trees that absorb carbon dioxide.

"The best bag to bring is the one you already own," she said Thursday.

If Target decides to continue using plastic bags, Carter wants the retailer to charge "a meaningful amount."

Plastic bag use fell by 90% after Ireland tacked on a 37-cent charge, Carter said. Los Angeles County charged 10 cents for plastic bags before the statewide ban, and single-bag use fell by half.

Target gives customers a 5-cent credit for each reusable bag. It also sells Target-branded reusable tote bags for 99 cents.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335 Twitter: @JackieCrosby