East Harriet woman’s bag petition has 470,000 signatures

East Harriet resident Theresa Carter
East Harriet resident Theresa Carter delivers petitions on Dec. 26 to Target's downtown Minneapolis headquarters asking the retailer to ban plastic checkout bags. Photos by Andrew Hazzard

An East Harriet woman’s online petition asking Target to stop using plastic checkout bags has garnered over 470,000 signatures.

Theresa Carter posted the petition on Change.org in early 2019. She said it quickly received a few thousand signatures before it “took off” in March, when a dead whale washed ashore in the Philippines with nearly 90 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

The petition reached 200,000 signatures by April and nearly 400,000 by October. It had over 455,000 on Dec. 26, when Carter, flanked by TV cameras, delivered it to Target’s downtown Minneapolis headquarters.

She now hopes to reach 500,000 signatures.

“It continues to grow, and it’s still a live petition until they make their decision,” she said.

Target, which has over 1,800 stores, has not responded directly to the petition. In a statement, spokeswoman Danielle Schuman highlighted the retailer’s efforts to reduce plastic waste, which have included using plastic bags made with 40% recycled content and a commitment to recycling plastic garment hangers.

Carter, a mom and former patent attorney, said she focused her petition on Target because it’s based in Minneapolis and because she frequently shops there.

She said she’s concerned about all plastic pollution but has focused on plastic bags because “if people can’t see [them] as a problem, it’s hard to see plastics throughout the store as a problem.”

Plastic bags have a large carbon footprint, pollute waterways and break down into tiny toxic bits that stay in the environment for long periods, Carter said. Studies have found large amounts of “microplastics” in rain, snow and air samples around the world.

A November presentation from the Minneapolis Health Department, which helped pass the ordinance that requires Minneapolis retailers to charge 5 cents for bags, said that Minnesotans throw away 87,000 tons of plastic bags each year.

The presentation also said that less than 5% of plastic bags is recycled and that recycling facilities spend four to six hours a day removing plastic bags from equipment.

“We’re in a crisis of trash,” said Minneapolis Climate Action executive director Kyle Samejima, who testified in favor of the city ordinance. “Plastic bags are one portion of that.”

Bag bans have been effective in curbing use, Carter wrote in the petition. She wrote that the 5-cent incentive Target currently offers to people who bring bags into their stores doesn’t meaningfully curb bag consumption.

She said in a January interview that she’s not sure when Target will act on her petition.

Jiao Luo, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management who specializes in corporate responsibility, said Carter’s petition is unusual in that it has generated widespread attention.

She said petitions don’t typically drive change, unless activists take steps like generating media attention or collaborating with the corporation.

Carter, who has been in touch with Target’s former head of corporate responsibility and its communications director, said she’s hopeful her petition will lead to change.

“I’m excited to see their response,” she said.