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Trader Joe’s Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics Nationwide Following Customer Petition

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A Trader Joe's in Chicago, Illinois. M. R. / Flickr

As the world suffocates from its plastic addiction, a growing number of businesses are stepping up to the plate to reduce their plastic waste. Most recently, Trader Joe's announced that it will be taking steps to cut back on plastic and other packaging waste after a petition launched by Greenpeace harnessed nearly 100,000 signatures.

At the end of last year, the company announced several improvements geared towards making packaging more sustainable in an effort to eliminate more than 1 million pounds of plastic from stores. Already, the retailer has stopped offering single-use plastic carryout bags nationwide and is replacing plastic produce bags and Styrofoam meat trays with biodegradable and compostable options.


"As a neighborhood grocery store, we feel it is important for us to be the great neighbor our customers deserve. Part of that means better managing our environmental impact," Kenya Friend-Daniel, public relations director for Trader Joe's, told EcoWatch in an email. "As we recently shared with our customers, we are working to reduce the amount of packaging in our stores and while we have made a number of positive changes in this space, the world is ongoing."

Each year, enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth a whopping four times. Despite that, just one-quarter of plastics produced in the U.S. is recycled even though recycling plastic takes 88 percent less energy than making it from raw materials. If just three-quarters of plastics were recycled, the Recycling Coalition of Utah says people could save an estimated 1 billion gallons of oil and 44 million cubic yards of landfill space annually.

"Every minute of every single day the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. Not only are these plastics hurting or killing marine animals, they are impacting all of us through our seafood, sea salt, tap water, and even the air we breathe," Greenpeace U.S.A. plastics campaigner David Pinsky told EcoWatch. "We know that we can't recycle our way out of this crisis, as only 9 percent of the plastics ever made have actually been recycled."

In recent years, a number of companies have taken the lead in reducing plastic waste, including United Kingdom food retailer A.S.D.A., who plans to remove single-use cups and cutlery this year. McDonald's says that 100 percent of its packaging will come from renewable, recycled or certified sustainable sources within the next seven years while water company Evian plans to go carbon neutral and plastic free by 2020. It's a solid start in battling the so-called "war on plastics," one that Trader Joe's says is just a small part of its "never-ending work."

Indeed, plastic has been found on every continent – including Antarctica – and at the bottom of the world's deepest waters.

"For far too long, corporations have deflected blame and made the issue of plastics about individual responsibility, but it's time for the world's largest corporations and retailers to show some accountability. The only way we are going to tackle this crisis is by pressuring corporations and governments to move away from throwaway plastics for good, and toward systems of reuse," said Pinsky.

Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated the wrong link for the Greenpeace petition. The link has been corrected.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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