Over the last few years, many communities across the country have enacted plastic bag bans. Bans are typically announced at the local level. However, Wegmans decided to expand on the concept and began working toward a company-wide ban.
Attempts to ban disposable plastic bags in grocery stores began more than a decade ago. In 2014, California made history in the retail industry by passing the first state-wide bill of its kind. Since then, nine more states have passed legislation prohibiting the use of single-use plastic bags.
Maine, California, Vermont, Connecticut, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Delaware are among those states. Each law has slightly different requirements and charges a small fee for replacement paper bags. These state-wide bans are not the only ones.
Several cities and counties across the country have passed similar legislation. However, Wegmans was inspired to ban plastic bags by one notable source: New York. According to Jason Wadsworth, the grocer’s category merchant for packaging, energy, and sustainability, it was inspired by that one law.
“We began this journey in 2019 when we set out to eliminate plastic bags in our New York State stores ahead of the state plastic bag ban,” he said. A lot has happened in the last three years, but our early success in New York demonstrated the impact we could have and motivated us to continue our journey to eliminate plastic bags by the end of 2022.” And the great news is that Wegmans met its goal early.
In late September, the company completed its mission to eliminate plastic bags from all of its locations. Its 18 Pennsylvania locations were the last to be transitioned. On September 22, they completed the switch.
Customers who forget or do not have their reusable bags will be given paper bags at all Wegmans locations. However, there is a catch. Each paper bag will cost $.05 to use.
The company will donate the proceeds from paper bag sales to the appropriate local United Way chapter, according to WGAL News. To pack their groceries, Pennsylvania residents must now bring their own storage container (reusable bag, box, tote, or hands). Alternatively, they can buy a paper bag and know that the money will go to a good cause.
Wegmans has gathered substantial data to support its decision to phase out plastic bags at the majority of its locations nationwide. The company discovered that paper bags are used for 20% to 25% of sales. However, for the majority of transactions, customers either use reusable bags or carry their groceries out by hand.
The grocer’s management team considers these figures to be a success. And they are overjoyed to have met their target ahead of schedule. “Completing our companywide transition out of single-use plastic bags is a big celebration as we continue to expand our sustainability efforts and focus on doing what’s right for the environment,” Wadsworth said.
That latter point is crucial for many people. Plastic bag bans provide consumers with an educational opportunity. They learn about the environmental impact of plastic and help prevent millions of pounds of plastic trash from ending up in landfills.