Plastic bags have become somewhat of a scapegoat among environmentalists and have been blamed for everything from endangering wildlife to foiling recycling efforts. Thus far, the states of California and Hawaii as well as the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have completely banned disposable bags opting for reusable bags, while many other states in the union have banned them on smaller scales, with counties and municipalities passing legislation to ban plastic bags or charge a fee to use them.
This year, New York State has gotten on board, with its ban beginning in March 2020. Exceptions to the rule will include food takeout bags, bags for bulk items and newspapers, deli or meat counter packaging, garment bags and bulk bags, like trash or recycling bags. One industry notably missing from the exemption list is grocery retail, which has long depended on plastic bags as a cheap and durable way to package grocery purchases. The New York ban will offer an option for counties to opt in to a five-cent fee on paper bags, revenue that will go to the Environmental Protection Fund.
While a future without plastic bags may seem like a headache for grocery retailers, with some creative strategies in place, the industry and consumer base will adjust to plastic bag alternatives.
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A majority of grocery stores have started producing their own reusable grocery bags for purchase at the store, and even in states where plastic is allowed, many choose to go green for sustainability reasons, but also because these heavier-duty materials are easier to carry and more durable. In places where a ban is in place, grocers have the opportunity to make extra profit off selling reusable bags for shoppers in a pinch that forgot their bags at home. Not only are these bags a necessity in the era of the plastic ban, but they can also serve as free advertising when printed with store logos or promotions. Some stores even adjust their bag designs seasonally to promote specific products.
Grocery chain ALDI is unique among grocers in the fact that it has never provided its shoppers with single-use grocery bags. The chain has always made a concerted effort to operate in a sustainable way, and has committed to making all their packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. While many grocers would assume that eliminating bag options altogether will deter customers on the basis of lack of convenience, ALDI has experienced success by passing on savings to its shoppers. ALDI’s consumer base clearly favors the chain’s affordable pricing and unique selection of products over the convenience of plastic bags. Regular ALDI shoppers are used to bringing their own bags but forgetful shoppers are offered cardboard boxes from the store’s bulk purchases. This system not only recycles packaging used by the store but offers an alternative to single-use plastic.
While it may seem like plastic bags are an essential part of the grocery landscape, it’s clear that consumers are adaptable to life without them. With options like durable reusable bags and environmentally friendly packaging, it can be just as convenient as well as more sustainable to use alternatives.