Last week, Target announced the launch of what it calls its “most ambitious climate change goals yet.” However, those plans didn’t mention plastic bag use practices, and that’s not sitting well with some customers who consider Target to be a large contributor to plastic waste.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition, started in January by the organization Customers Who Care, to eliminate all plastic bags from the Minneapolis-based retailer’s 1,800-plus locations.
Although some Target locations have already stopped using them due to state laws—as in California—one billion single-use plastic bags are still taken from Target locations every year, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The petition, formally entitled “Ban Plastic Bags: Target, Stop Filling the World with Plastic Bags,” is running on petition platform Change.org and is being addressed to Target CEO Brian Cornell and other Target executives and board members, including Ecolab CEO Doug Baker.
Customers Who Care, founded in September, lists its official mission as one to “inspire retailers to stop contributing to plastic pollution and to pursue a green and sustainable future.” The Target petition is the organization’s first specific project.
“We’re not trying to hurt Target in any way… we’re both loyal customers, we want to be proud to shop there,” says Theresa Carter, who founded Minneapolis-based Customers Who Care with her mother. “Target says it’s a sustainability leader… [but] the billions of plastic bags that continue to flow out of Target's stores each year are not sustainable.”
In an announcement about the petition, Customers Who Care cites research from the 5 Gyres Institute, which serves as a special plastics pollution reduction consultant for the United Nations. Melissa Aguayo, advocacy and education director at 5 Gyres, explains that plastic bags never go away, but rather break down into smaller pieces called microplastics that other life forms can choke on.
Aguayo adds that the average plastic bag is used just 12 minutes before being discarded, and only 1 percent of bags are recycled. “By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish,” she says.
Target hasn’t been completely idle in environmental conservation efforts. In addition to the recently announced goals to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the retailer has taken at least some steps toward revising its plastic bag use.
A Target spokesperson says in an email to TCB that currently, “in an effort to promote the use of reusable bags and keep more plastic bags out of landfills, Target gives guests a five-cent discount for each reusable bag used at all of our stores.”
The spokesperson adds Target also provides plastic bag recycling kiosks at the front of stores. Such plastic waste reduction efforts began more than a decade ago.
For example, in 2008, Target teamed up with Newsweek and eco-capitalism company TerraCycle to turn the magazine into an envelope in which customers could send Target plastic bags to the retailer, with a pre-paid return label. In return, customers would be sent a coupon for a free reusable tote. One year later, Target began offering customers the 5-cent discount.
However, Target stores across the U.S. continue to offer some form of plastic bag during checkout, leaving it up to customers to choose between using those or bringing their own reusable bags.
Customers Who Care doesn’t think that the approach is making an impact and therefore is not a sufficient effort on the retailer’s part.
“In order to be a sustainability leader Target needs to stop putting the onus of that leadership fully on its customers,” says Carter. “Saying people can refuse their bags, that’s not leadership. Leadership is taking a position and caring about it.”
Carter hopes to reach the initial petition goal of 150,000 soon, and says they’ll keep the petition going with new goals continually established, for as long as it takes.
“We’re not stopping until Target listens,” she says, “because we really care about this and we want Target to care about this.”