Regional grocer Wegmans will remove single-use plastic bags from 18 stores in Pennsylvania this month, completing its mission to eliminate plastic bags companywide by the end of this year.
Now, the question remains: Will other U.S. grocers follow suit?
In 2019, Wegmans began phasing out plastic bags at their New York state locations ahead of the statewide ban that went into effect in March 2020. Wegmans, with a reputation for innovation, quickly realized it could eliminate plastic bags at all 108 stores along the east coast.
“A lot has happened over the last three years, but that early success in New York showed us the impact we could make and drove us to continue on our journey to be plastic-bag free by the end of 2022,” Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans category merchant for packaging, energy, and sustainability said in a statement.
OTHER RETAILERS IN PLANNING STAGES
There has been buzz about eliminating single-use plastics for the last several years among major retailers, but Wegmans was the quickest to take action and accomplish that goal.
Walmart, Target and CVS are all founding partners of the Beyond the Bag Initiative, launched in 2020 by the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag. According to Closed Loop Partners, the managing partner of the consortium, “this initiative aims to reinvent the single-use plastic retail bag, with the goal of identifying, testing and implementing viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag.”
In summer 2021, the consortium piloted a program at select CVS, Target and Walmart stores where customers could borrow a bag and use it multiple times before returning it (to the same or a different participating brand’s store) to be washed and redistributed for reuse.
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES MOTIVATE CUSTOMERS
The Beyond the Bag pilot ran for 10 weeks, and according to a report published this month, different shoppers responded to different incentives for reuse, but financial rewards were most effective.
More than half (53%) of customers noted that financial incentives, such as a purchase discount, were their primary motivator for choosing a reusable bag. Meanwhile, Wegmans incentivizes customers to remember their reusable bags by charging five cents each for paper ones, an approach that has proven to be successful. At Wegmans stores where plastic bags have already been phased out, paper bags are used for 20-25% of transactions, and the remaining 75-80% use reusable bags or no bags at all.
Eliminating plastic bags from the final Wegmans stores in Pennsylvania will prevent roughly 345 million single-use bags from going into circulation annually, the grocer said.
For the Beyond the Bag Initiative, the journey continues. As they concluded in their most recent report, there’s still more experimentation to be done, “one step and bag at a time.”