The biggest grocery chain in the U.S. will slowly phase out the use of plastic bags as more Americans become more aware of their impact on ours oceans and other environments.
Kroger Co. started last month at QFC stores around Seattle, aiming at a goal of no plastic bag use at those stores at some point next year. The company announced it will be plastic-bag free at all nearly all of its 2,800 stores around the country by 2025.
Kroger purchases nearly 6 billion bags every year for its stores in 35 states, which serve almost 9 million people every day through two dozen different grocery chains.
The Cincinnati-based Cincinnati has solicited customer feedback and will be partnering with outside groups throughout the process of moving to reusable bags. Customers will have the option to buy reusable bags in-store for $1 – $2 each. While brown paper bags will also be available for free, Kroger stated that its ultimate goal is to fully transition to reusable bags.
“We listen very closely to our customers and our communities, and we agree with their growing concerns,” said Mike Donnelly, Kroger’s CEO. “This decision aligns with our Restock Kroger commitment to live our purpose through social impact.”
Every year the U.S. generates over 4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps, according to the EPA. Only 13% of that plastic is recycled, according to manufacturers and recyclers.
There has already been a push across multiple cities to establish new bans on single-use plastic bags, but industry groups have pushed bag aggressively, saying that elimination of plastic bags will hurt lower-income populations disproportionately.
There has also been a pushback from policy-makers as in several states when communities try to put into place restrictions the use of plastic bags, or to charge a fee if customers don’t bring reusable bags.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, state lawmakers in Arizona, Wisconsin, Missouri, Idaho, Michigan, and last year, Minnesota, have prevented local ordinances that ban plastic bags since 2015. They followed similar state actions in Florida, Indiana and Iowa, according to Pew.
But companies can still make their own choices on the issue, and increasingly, they are starting to do so.
There is a wider shift under way at major U.S. corporations to reduce waste. Disney, Starbucks, Marriott and McDonald’s are eliminating plastic straws. Earlier this year McDonald’s announced that it will use only recycled or other eco-friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025. Dunkin’ Donuts is phasing out polystyrene foam cups by 2020. Ikea plans to eliminate single-use plastic products from its shelves by 2020.
Environmentalists have cheered these measures, but remind us that more must be done in light of the massive scale of plastic pollution. David Pinsky of Greenpeace noted that plastic pollution is killing sea life as well as harming human health.
“Kroger’s decision to phase out single-use plastic bags is a testament to how consumers are demanding action on plastics from retailers nationwide,” he said. “Kroger should build upon this effort by getting rid of additional types of single-use plastic. Plastic bags are important for retailers to eliminate, but so are plastic bottles, Styrofoam trays, and plastic-wrapped fruit and vegetables.”