For years, corporations have told us that if we recycle more and do our individual parts, we can help tackle plastic pollution. But we now know that this will never be enough.
Only 9% of all plastic ever made has actually been recycled. To truly stem the tide on plastic pollution, we need the corporations that rely on cheap throwaway plastics to stop producing them to begin with. And we need major retailers, like Target, to shift toward reuse systems.
It is time for a reckoning that moves the world beyond single-use plastics.
Much of the focus over the last few years has centered upon the plastics used by consumer goods companies, like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and by fast food giants like Starbucks and McDonald’s. But U.S. retailers have an equally important role to play in addressing plastic pollution, and it is time they show that they are taking this issue seriously.
Greenpeace recently released its first-ever scorecard of retailer efforts to tackle single-use plastics. Twenty major U.S. retailers were evaluated on policies, plastic reduction efforts, innovation and initiatives, and transparency. Every single retailer received a failing score.
Target scored a dismal 17 out of a possible 100 points. Across the board, U.S. retailers have not acted with the urgency and scale needed to address this issue.
For the most part, single-use plastics enter Americans’ lives in the places where they shop. A visit to your local Target will find aisle upon aisle stuffed with plastic-wrapped food, throwaway soda bottles, non-recyclable chip bags, and many other goods in single-use plastic. A trip to the checkout counter will find those plastic-wrapped products being shoved into mostly throwaway plastic bags.
Despite ongoing petitions from customers, Target has ignored the calls to end its reliance on throwaway plastic packaging and bags.
Retailers like Target have the buying power to push consumer goods companies to move away from plastics or risk losing shelf space. And they have the ability to rid their produce aisles, checkout counters, and own-brand products of plastic immediately.
Instead, Target has largely focused on recycling and has failed to release an ambitious plastic reduction plan or show the leadership needed to move toward reuse.
The solution is not for Target to swap out one throwaway material for another; it is time to employ reuse systems that reduce the need for unnecessary packaging altogether. Customers are demanding a fundamental shift in the way products are delivered. Some retailers have claimed that plastic packaging is needed to ensure food safety, but increasing concerns about toxins in plastic packaging require us to look for different solutions. Target must act now: It should start by eliminating plastic checkout bags and announcing a bold plan to phase out single-use plastics in its operations.
In other countries, many retailers are already leading the charge toward plastic-free aisles and stores. U.K. retailer Iceland will eliminate plastics in its own brand products by 2023, and Sainsbury’s has committed to cut its plastic footprint in half. In Canada, retailer Metro has permitted customers throughout Quebec to bring their own reusable containers for various items. And in New Zealand, retailer Foodstuffs has several initiatives, including eliminating plastic packaging for produce and trialing reusable containers.
In the U.S., progress has been slower, but some stores are beginning to go plastic-free. In Brooklyn, the Wally Shop relies on a closed-loop delivery system that delivers products in reusable packaging. The Package Free Shop, also in New York, sells its products plastic-free to help customers live a zero-waste lifestyle.
And while currently only operating at a trial scale in select markets, Walgreens and Kroger recently signed onto a program called Loop that offers major brands to consumers via a reuse system.
Companies around the globe are finally starting to acknowledge their role in the plastic pollution crisis. But it is time for retailers like Target to scale up plastic-free initiatives and make them accessible to communities across the country.
As a company that prides itself on listening to and evolving with its customers and striving to put the needs of the people, communities and the planet at the center, it is time for Target to heed the call on plastic pollution and emerge as a leader among retailers in the fight to end single-use plastics. Our oceans, waterways and communities depend on it.
Theresa Carter is a resident of Minneapolis and founded Customers Who Care, which launched a petition urging Target to end its reliance on plastic bags. David Pinsky is a plastics campaigner for Greenpeace USA and authored the organization’s supermarket plastics scorecard.