Supermarkets are Not Doing Enough to Reduce Plastic Waste

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

This article might take three or four minutes to read. In that time 3 or 4 million single-use water bottles will be sold. Tackling the problem takes more than eliminating plastic straws or making weak attempts at recycling. Retailers need to step up to the challenge, according to recent Greenpeace report

Supermarkets are the place where Americans encounter vast amounts of plastic. So, how are U.S. supermarkets addressing plastic pollution? A Greenpeace report ranking 20 of the largest U.S. grocery retailers found that supermarkets as a whole just aren’t addressing the plastic pollution crisis.

Some supermarkets are doing a better job of addressing plastic pollution than others. ALDI, Kroger, and Albertsons Companies received the highest marks while Meijer, Wakefern, and H-E-B received the lowest. There is a reason why ALDI makes the top of the list. It has a target that all of the products exclusive to its stores will have reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. However, ALDI, along with the other retailers analyzed by Greenpeace, did not earn a passing score.

Kroger, ranked number two, is the only retailer of the bunch with a commitment to ban single-use plastic checkout bags. Although Kroger mainly focuses on recycling, it has a partnership with Loop to reduce single-use plastics. The Loop platform makes products available that are packaged in glass or metal containers and ships them directly to consumers in a tote. Once a consumer is finished with a product, it can be picked up for free. After being picked up, it will be cleaned, refilled, and reused. During Loop’s first phase, the products are available to certain consumers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

“It’s not enough for a retailer to eliminate plastic straws or make small changes to produce bags and walk away from this issue,” said Greenpeace Plastics Campaigner David Pinsky. “Retailers must develop comprehensive public policies to eliminate single-use plastics, and remain transparent with customers as they implement those plans.”

Plastic pollution is a big problem

Plastic is a part of modern life. One million single-use plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, and up to five trillion single-use plastic bags are used globally every year. Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once. About 60 percent of the over 8.3 million tons of plastic produced since the early 1950s has ended up in a landfill or the environment. Eight million tons of plastic winds up in the world’s oceans every year. Oceans could have more plastic than fish by 2050. Nearly all plastics are produced from chemicals derived from fossil fuels. By 2050, if current trends persist, the plastic industry may account for 20 percent of the world’s oil use.

Recycling is not the solution

lastic producers want to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade, and quadruple production by 2050. That means that more plastic will end up in landfills or the world’s oceans. Only nine percent of the plastic waste ever generated has been recycled, with about 12 percent of it having been incinerated with the rest ending up in landfills or the environment.

Many plastics are designed to be used once and thrown away. Most single-use plastics cannot be recycled properly. Despite that fact, retailers tend to focus on recycling as the solution to plastic waste pollution. Greenpeace found that Kroger (ranked number two), and Walmart (sixth), and Target (eighth) put recycling strategies above more comprehensive solutions for single-use plastics.

What retailers can do

Greenpeace makes three suggestions for retailers to take real action on the plastic waste pollution crisis. One of those suggestions to have more transparency by annually disclosing their plastic use. Retailers can also ask for their suppliers to disclose their plastic use and their suppliers’ plans to reduce reliance on single-use plastics.

The second suggestion is for retailers to commit publicly to phasing out single-use plastics and achieve reductions in the amount of single-use plastic packaging. Retailers should also focus transitioning to packaging that is not single-use, which ties into the third suggestion to invest in innovation. It is time to re-imagine a world with less dependence on plastic.

What you can do

You can begin to shift away from single-use plastics by ditching bottled water for a reusable water bottle, and a disposable plastic grocery bag for a cloth bag.