An Open Letter to H-E-B on Single-Use Plastics


Note: The letter below was emailed to Craig Boyon, President of H-E-B, on June 12, 2019. In this article copy, I have included a few affiliate links, should you be interested in finding alternatives to single-use plastics at home. I make a very small commission from affiliate links, at no additional cost to you.

Dear Craig Boyan and Charles Butts:

I hope this letter finds you well and in good health. This matter has been on my heart for some time. I believe that is due to the fact that I align with the environmental and community efforts at your retailer on so many other levels, and was taken aback in this regard.

When Austin, Texas ended the ban on single-use plastics, companies had a choice. Reduce their footprint and continue to voluntarily exercise a no single-use plastic policy, find a healthy alternative, or reintroduce single-use plastics like the ban never happened. H-E-B chose the latter.

In the three year term of the ban, I have no doubt that selling reusable bags turned into good business. While frustrating for consumers who forgot their bags... we got used to the policy. In fact, Dallas introduced a city-wide nominal fee on plastic bags, which lasted only five months, and brought in an estimated $500,000 to a city environmental program.  No jobs were lost, no one was harmed, and the environment was made better for it. I would venture to say the bag ban in Austin did not cost anything, but created a reliable income source through selling reusables.

However, H-E-B was quick to reintroduce plastic bags to placate customers. This was additionally confusing to me, given H-E-B’s sister company, Central Market, has long had policies that complied with the “bag ban” using paper bags at checkout.

Linda Tovar, the H-E-B Public Affairs Manager said, “As one of the largest retailers in Texas, it's important for us to honor the wishes of the millions of Texans we serve, and respect their ability to make choices about where to shop based on the products and services they want.”

To Linda I would say, if we went around doing everything the consumer wanted the world would be facing major issues like climate change, plastic pollution, and irreversible damage to our planet. Oh wait, we’re already there. Here are only a few statistics:

  • 91% of plastics are not recycled

  • In a single day there are 2,800,000 plastic bags that will be used once and thrown away

  • In a single day there are 500,000,000 plastic straws that will be used once and thrown away

  • By 2050, the ocean is expected to contain more plastic than fish (by weight)

  • 1 million single-use plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world

  • Plastics have a life-span and can only be recycled a limited number of times before making their way to the landfill. Less than 1% of plastic bags are returned for specialty recycling.

Photo by  Jordan Beltran

I would argue that as long as convenience is an option on the table, it will be chosen, no matter how much we encourage and educate customers. “No single-use plastics” is a top-down issue in consumerism. While store shelves are lined with single-use plastics and it will take awhile to reverse this practice altogether due to the bottom line, we can start somewhere and the time is now.

I recognize that H-E-B is doing an incredible job in many ways when it comes to recycling, in addition to your humanitarian efforts across our state. That is why your grocery chain is one of the most beloved in Central Texas. When folks move out of town or leave for a trip, H-E-B is one of the first places they visit upon their return. It is a brand Texans stand behind. Hence, many Austinites found it disappointing when their grocer had the opportunity to continue complying with your own no-single use plastics policy after the Supreme Court ruling, and chose not to.

Plastic pollution is harming our ecosystems, wildlife, health and economy, for no purpose at all. Luke Metzger of Environment Texas said it best, "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years."

The issue with recycling is that it is not an end-all-be-all cure to any of our environmental issues. There is a reason “recycle” comes third in the 3 R’s lineup, because “reduce” is the most efficient way we can impact our overall footprint on the world. It is the basic law of economics in supply and demand.

I call out H-E-B specifically, because you are already doing due diligence in so many other areas, as well as having 3 years of data insight into a “plastic bag ban,” despite deciding to voluntarily reverse it. I call upon H-E-B to re-evaluate their mission to incorporate a policy that removes the top 10 single-use plastics from their supply chain, including:

  • Removing single-use plastics at checkout and continuing to provide alternative options that are environmentally friendly.

  • Removing single-use plastics from the produce section by replacing them with biodegradable bags, and begin selling re-useable, eco-friendly produce bags as a secondary option.

  • Reducing single-use plastics in H-E-B cafes, delis and sushi bars including utensils and plastic take-away boxes.

H-E-B has the opportunity to work with the community to make the world a better place to live, and be a leader for other retailers when it comes to sustainability. We have to find a way to end plastic pollution, because the world we live in depends on it, and it depends on us. I know it is a long road ahead, but let’s do the best we can. Together. My door is open if you would like to dialogue.


Natalie Rhea Riggs
(A concerned H-E-B customer who loves our planet)