Whole Foods Issues New Packaging Standards for Suppliers

Whatever your attitude may be towards Whole Foods, the fact is that the Austin-based company has had an instrumental role in the change of many Americans’ food habits. Once relegated to university towns and neighborhoods with aging beatniks and hippies, “health food stores,” while still around, have given sway to becoming a “consumer experience” that makes business professors and Wall Street cool. Some see this as progress; others see this as creepy corporatization; many of us just marvel at the healthy bites WF takes out of our wallets.

With success has come growing pains. Organic, fair trade, free range, local, or from Vanuatu, many of that food is still packaged in plastic, paper, PET, cans, Tetra-Paks, and their bio equivalents. Many debate whether Whole Foods is truly “sustainable” or worthy of similar monikers. And while the company does what it thinks is best to educate consumers on products’ life-cycles, trash is still a problem. The chain’s tackling of waste issues sometimes comes with waste results, as this video quickly explains. Whether Whole Foods and its employees are to blame or not (what are they going to do, place a schoolmarm at every recycling bin?), trash, garbage, rubbish—it is still a problem with which municipalities and health professionals struggle. Landfill (space) or BPA (chemicals) are the price of convenience.

Whole Foods, however, is responding to such concerns in kind. The company has issuednew sustainable packaging guidelines to the 2000-plus vendors that comprise its lucrative body care and health supplement business.

The initiative has its origins in 2008, when its global head of its body care department began work with 25 suppliers. Working together, both parties agreed that containers should include more glass, limit packaging to recycled or reused materials, and include the highest post-consumer recycled content (PCR) possible.

Now all body care suppliers, which number about 300, must meet the company’s packaging guidelines before their products can be sold in North America and the United Kingdom. As for its private-label line (Whole Body), Whole Foods has promised that those products will be in PCR packaging by the end of this year. According to Jeremiah McElwee, WF’s Body Care global coordinator, the process has been a win for everyone involved:

It’s really been great to see how responsive our vendors have been in making changes to provide even more green options for our customers. And even more exciting still is that through the development process, we’ve been able to create a forum for vendors to share best practices, helping the whole industry move forward with the environment top of mind.

Whole Food’s commitment, however, is not just limited to dictating to suppliers what they cannot do. Companies that pledge to use recyclable packaging, like Boulder Canyon Natural Foods, also have a greater chance at seeing their products on WF’s shelves.

No word yet on when this new practice will transfer to food and other products, but Whole Foods has taken a much welcome step. Who is next?

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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