The organic supermarket chain Whole Foods has announced that it will no longer distribute plastic straws to customers starting in July, according to a press release on Monday.
The company also said that it would work to reduce the amount of plastic packaging used throughout its stores, including for fresh vegetables and rotisserie chickens.
Going forward, rotisserie chickens will be packaged in plastic sleeves that use 70% less plastic than the previous container. Shoppers in the fresh produce section will also find smaller plastic bags for wrapping fruit and vegetables.
In total, the brand claims these moves will eliminate 800,000 pounds of plastic waste every year.
“For almost 40 years, caring for the environment has been central to our mission and how we operate,” said A.C. Gallo, president and chief merchandising officer at Whole Foods Market, in a statement. “We recognize that single-use plastics are a concern for many of our customers, team members, and suppliers, and we’re proud of these packaging changes, which will eliminate an estimated 800,000 pounds of plastics annually.”
Whole Foods has long been a leader in the fight for sustainability. In 2008, the company stopped using plastic bags at check-out, before it became a global trend, replacing them with paper bags and encouraging customers to bring reusable totes.
The company also eliminated polystyrene, also known as styrofoam, and introduced takeout food containers made of compostable material.
Whole Foods has also been criticized on social media in the past for excessively relying on plastic packaging. In 2016, images of peeled oranges in plastic containers caused an uproar on social media, as users accused the company of generating gratuitous plastic waste.
The brand responded that it would stop selling oranges in this way.
In recent years, supermarkets around the world have vowed to reduce plastic waste. Trader Joe’s announced earlier this year that it would reduce 1 million pounds of plastic waste annually. A supermarket chain in Thailand introduced banana leaves as an alternative form of packaging, and supermarkets in the United Kingdom have embraced a ban on plastic bags.
These shifts are driven by a growing awareness of the harmful effects of plastic waste on the global environment. Marine animals as diverse as whales and coral have suffered and died from plastic debris, and plastic in the oceans gradually release toxic chemicals.
The consequences of plastic waste even reach humans. Studies have found that microplastics have become a part of everyone’s diets, ingested through water, food, or table salt, and these tiny particles pervade the air.
A recent study found an estimated 1 million people die prematurely every year because of plastic waste.
Although supermarkets can play a key role in reducing how much waste makes it to the environment, transformative action begins with governments.
More than 60 countries have taken action to restrict plastic production, the EU has unveiled a sweeping plan to ban single-use plastics, and the United Nations recently formed a global coalition to combat ocean plastic waste.