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Will Target be Next to Ditch Single-Use Plastic Bags as the Trend Gains Traction?

The holiday shopping rush appears to have fanned the flames of environmental concern with consumers, and Target is their latest, well, target.

A petition created on Dec. 26 demanding that the big box retailer ditch plastic shopping bags has garnered a whopping 466,255 signatures as of Monday.

The petition’s authors said that while eliminating plastic shopping bags might be inconvenient to consumers, other massive chains like Ikea and Costco have managed to eschew wasteful single-use plastics without major blowback from shoppers.

They also stressed that paper bags are not an adequate substitute, claiming that their carbon footprint is even larger due to the resources—like trees and water—it takes to create them.

The petition called for the store to charge a “meaningful amount” for the purchase of shopping bags of any kind, both to deter consumers from purchasing them and to encourage the use of reusable totes.

“In Los Angeles county, a plastic bag ban with a charge on paper bags reduced single bag use by 95 percent,” the petition’s authors claimed, adding, “Target’s current 5 cent incentive for those bringing bags does not meaningfully curb Target’s plastic bag consumption.”

When questioned about the petition, a Target spokesperson told Sourcing Journal in an email, “We have many initiatives in place to help reduce our use of plastic, including sustainable packaging goals, plastic bags that are made with 40 percent recycled content, a 25-year commitment to recycling plastic garment hangers and Target’s work as a global signatory of the New Plastics Economy.”

Headed up by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment promotes the elimination of all unnecessary plastic items as well as innovation around circular replacements. The treaty has a roster of 400 international businesses (including fast fashion heavyweights Inditex and H&M) and governments working toward the goal.

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Target also said it installed recycling kiosks in stores a decade ago, including some for plastic bags.

“In addition to established efforts, Target teams across the business are working to eliminate, reduce and find alternatives for plastics in our products, packaging and operations,” the spokesperson emphasized.

Over the course of 2019, a number of brands and retailers have taken on the issue of single-use plastics, both in their stores and in their product packaging.

Canadian footwear brand Aldo, along with its clothing label Call It Spring, parted with plastic in August, replacing shopping bags with eco-friendly shoe boxes outfitted with handles for easy toting.

Fast Retailing Group, which owns Uniqlo, J Brand, Theory and other international contemporary apparel brands, announced in July that it planned to slash single-use plastics in its shopping bags and product packaging by 85 percent. By the end of 2020, the fashion firm said it would be well on its way to eliminating 7,800 tons of unnecessary plastic use per year.

In September, the world’s third largest athletic lifestyle footwear brand, Skechers, said it had cut down its plastic packaging use by 85 percent—a considerable feat considering the company said it was on track to ship 170 million pairs of shoes this year alone.

Commitments from omnichannel brands and retailers underscore the fact that shopping in-store isn’t the only way plastic bags are making their way out into the world.

Britain’s largest online retailer, Asos, announced earlier this month that it was joining the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, vowing to cut its use of plastic packaging in half. By 2025, Asos will replace 50 percent of its single-use mailing bags with reusable models. The company is currently developing a fully circular “bespoke prototype mailing bag” made from 65 percent recycled plastic bags, set to debut in early 2020. The retailer has also announced plans to transition all of its packaging to reusable, recyclable or compostable versions by 2025.

While brands have been touting their efforts to create more sustainable, thoughtfully made garments, packaging has proven a decidedly un-sexy talking point. And that reality has created ample opportunities for innovative component manufacturers, which stand to benefit from brands’ diverted focus.

Sustainable sourcing platform Supply Compass, which helps brands streamline their supply chains and match with eco-friendly suppliers, launched a compostable packaging range for fashion brands in November.

Using a corn-derived biopolymer (which the company claims is as durable as conventional plastic), Supply Compass has created a fully customizable line of polybags designed to biodegrade under certain conditions.

“As a business, we see millions of single-use polybags being discarded on a regular basis, so we set out to tackle this,” Supply Compass co-founder Flora Davidson said, adding that the company is eager to “instigate change within the garment supply chain.”

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment report for 2019 revealed that packaging accounts for about 26 percent of the total volume of plastics created a year. According to the organization’s research, 72 percent of these items go to landfill rather than being incorporated back into the circular economy.