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Earlier, we reported initiatives by China and Australia to ban plastic shopping bags.

We are pleased to announce that Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket and a green printing customer, has announced that it will end the use of disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts in all of its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. with the goal to be plastic bag-free by Earth Day, April 22, 2008.

According to A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market:

“More and more cities and countries are beginning to place serious restrictions on single-use plastic shopping bags since they don’t break down in our landfills, can harm nature by clogging waterways and endangering wildlife, and litter our roadsides. Together with our shoppers, our gift to the planet this Earth Day will be reducing our environmental impact as we estimate we will keep 100 million new plastic grocery bags out of our environment between Earth Day and the end of this year alone.”

“Doing away with plastic grocery bags won’t just help protect marine life, it’s a key move in shifting us away from a ‘consume-and-dispose’ mentality,” says Lisa Mastny, editor of the Worldwatch Institute report Oceans in Peril. “Disposable plastic bags can linger in the environment for more than 1,000 years and are the major debris item found on the seabed, especially near the coast.”

“During our International Coastal Cleanup each year, our volunteers find hundreds of thousands of bags on beaches and in the ocean posing a threat to birds, turtles and other marine life. As people continue to learn more about the impact their lifestyle has on the environment, we find they are looking for personal solutions to global problems,” said Laura Capps, senior vice president of communications and outreach with Ocean Conservancy. “We applaud Whole Foods Market for encouraging their customers to bring re-usable bags when shopping and for making better stewardship of our environment a part of their everyday lives.”

Beginning immediately, each store in the Company will work on depleting stocks of disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts and will help raise awareness about the benefits of reusable bags. Over the next three months, stores will reduce plastic grocery bag inventories and increase selections of reusable bags for purchase.

The Company sells different types of reusable bags, ranging from canvas to its new large, stylish “A Better Bag”– a sound environmental choice since 80 percent of its content comes from recycled plastic bottles and it is an economical choice as well since it costs only 99 cents.

Although the natural and organic grocer hopes to inspire shoppers to bring their own reusable bags, the Company will continue to offer an environmentally sensitive option when needed – 100 percent recycled paper grocery bags. Last year, Whole Foods Market became the first and only food retailer in North America to offer these recycled paper grocery bags made with 100 percent recycled fiber content, which also are completely recyclable.

Discontinuing disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts is another step in the Company’s ongoing effort to provide more Earth-friendly bags and containers in its stores. Recently, Whole Foods Market stores began using all-natural fiber packaging at its salad and food bars. The fibers for the new containers come from plants that are cultivated or grow wild and are harvested annually. Additionally, the Company continues to seek alternatives to plastic bags in its bulk, produce, bakery and seafood departments.

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