Grocery Store Chains Need to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic

Grocery stores and other retailers play an important role in eliminating plastic pollution. Individuals can also reduce their use of plastic and, with their power of their spend, can demand retailers reduce plastic packaging

More grocery store chains are starting to slowly tackle the problem of single-use plastics. QFC, a division of Kroger, announced in April that it will stop offering single-use plastic bags. Its parent company announced a plan to eliminate single-use plastic bags in all of its stores, with QFC being its first market to start the transition.

Aldi announced in April that all of its packaging will be 100 percent reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Since 90 percent of the products sold in its stores are Aldi-exclusive, the store chain can more easily influence how its products are packaged.

Trader Joe’s announced in December that it is committed to reducing the use of plastic in its packaging, which includes eliminating the plastic sleeves its greeting cards come in with recyclable material.

Whole Foods can lead the way in eliminating single-use plastic

Whole Foods Market recently announced it will eliminate plastic straws from its stores in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada by July 2019. It is the first national grocery store chain to make the decision to ditch plastic straws.

Whole Foods is also committed to switching to small plastic bags in its produce department this year and is replacing the hard plastic rotisserie chicken comes in with bags that use about 70 percent less plastic. Those two commitments will reduce around 800,000 pounds of plastic a year. But the grocery store chain still uses single use plastic that winds up in landfills where they emit methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon dioxide.

Whole Foods has already demonstrated it can be a leader in this area. In 2008, the chain became the first U.S. grocer to eliminate disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts

It eliminated all polystyrene (Styrofoam) meat trays in its U.S. and Canadian stores, and puts items from its prepared foods department in environmentally responsible containers, including salad boxes made of 100 percent commercially compostable material.

“As a forward-thinking company, Whole Foods must release a comprehensive public plan to reduce plastic throughout its stores to match the scale of the problem,” said Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky, in a statement. 

“Now more than ever, we need retailers like Whole Foods to embrace real innovation — moving toward systems of reuse and thinking beyond throwaway materials. Our oceans, waterways, and communities depend on it.”

Plastic production needs to slow down

A new report by a coalition of non-profit organizations, including the Center for International Environmental Law found that the production and incineration of plastic in 2019 will add over 850 metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which is equivalent to the pollution from 189 new coal-fired plants. If plastic production continues to grow, the emissions from it could reach 1.34 gigatons a year by 2030, which is equivalent to the emissions from over 295 500-megawatt coal power plants. The production and disposal of plastic could generate 56 gigatons of emissions by 2050, which is as much as 14 percent of the planet’s remaining carbon budget.

What a concerned citizen can do

There are things a concerned citizen can do. The first thing is to work on reducing the use of plastics, including bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and using a reusable water bottle. The other thing is to sign the petition by coalition of environmental groups that demands grocery stores phase out single-use plastic checkout bags. No step is too small. 

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