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Disruptors 2019: Single-use plastics

This is part of Supermarket News’ 2019 Disruptors package. See the entire lineup here.

A lot of attention was paid in 2018 to companies eliminating plastic straws, with much of the buzz surrounding efforts from food operators like Starbucks and McDonald’s and customer reactions, which ranged from laudatory to ridicule. More quietly, a battle against single-use plastic bags was gaining steam in the grocery sector — and with one of the biggest players in the industry planning to eliminate the bags, there may be a full-fledged revolution afoot.

The Kroger Co. announced last summer that it plans to eliminate plastic shopping bags from its more than 2,800 company-owned supermarkets by 2025. The supermarket giant was distributing 6 billion single-use bags per year.

In an opinion piece published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen wrote, “The plastic shopping bag’s days are numbered. Major cities around the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston, have banned their use in retail settings. Our customers have told us it makes no sense to have so much plastic only to be used once before being discarded. And they’re exactly right.”

He continued, “As America’s largest grocer, we recognize we have a responsibility to cut down on unnecessary plastic waste that contributes to litter, harms the environment and, in some cases, can endanger wildlife.”

While environmental campaigns against plastic bags are not new — Whole Foods has created a cottage industry with its ubiquitous reusable canvas shopping bags, while socially conscious retailers like PCC Community Markets have been plastic bag-free for years — the move by Kroger puts the issue on a much larger stage and increases pressure on similarly large supermarket chains such as Ahold Delhaize USA, Albertsons and Aldi, all of which launched ambitious sustainability initiatives in 2018. As more and more communities debate eliminating the bags (Washington state recently put forth a bill that could make it the second state after California to ban the bags statewide) or charging fees to discourage their use, retailers are more likely to follow in the proactive footsteps of Kroger.

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