Most of us would agree that protecting the environment is important and that we would gladly do our part to help out. And yet, the vast majority of food shoppers still prefer disposable bags for their groceries, which is potentially harmful to the environment.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each American uses 300 to 700 disposable plastic shopping bags a year, resulting in 100 billion annually. These bags often end up as litter, polluting the highways and beaches, and harming wildlife.
The Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) released a report titled "B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Bag): Reusable Bag Policies at Long Island Grocery Stores." CCE staff analyzed and evaluated reusable bag policies of 14 Long Island grocery store chains, which all sell the reusable bags.
Whole Foods and Stop & Shop both received the highest grade, an A+, while Trader Joe's, King Kullen and Uncle Giuseppe's Marketplace got Fs. Stores were graded on sale and promotion of reusable bags, signage within the store and in parking lots to remind consumers to bring bags, monetary incentives, educating employees and willingness to engage in consumer education on reusable bags.
Kings sells reusable bags for 99 cents, as well as high-quality "fashionable" bags for $9.99. Customers who shop with 99-cent reusable bags get 4 cents off for each bag of groceries. On Sunday, Kings was out of stock of the 99-cent bags but had two stacks of the higher priced bags. Kings' disposable grocery bags are made out of recycled plastic.
Key Food sells reusable cotton tote bags in green and white for $2.99. It does not incentivize customers for using the bags. It also sells a reusable 3-ply insulated bag. The air tight Velcro keeps items hot or cold for three hours. The bags are reusable and sell for $2.49.
Natural Market sells reusable green bags with the words "recycle, reduce, reuse" circling the bag. Customers can purchase the bags for 99 cents or step up to a higher-quality reusable bag for $1.99. A worker at the store said customers have been opting for the $1.99 bag, which includes the Natural Market logo. The store does not incentivize customers who shop with the bags. Natural Market offers a recycle bin for disposable plastic bags near the entrance on Seventh Street.
Maureen Dolan Murphy, executive programs manager, CCE, said their goal is to help educate the public about the dangers of disposable bags and convert them to reusable bags.
While the report found that Long Island food stores were making progress in their green efforts, it was clear more needs to be done.
Stop & Shop said it has long taken a proactive approach to working with federal, state and local officials to support efforts that "will make a real difference in this area," said Faith Weiner, Stop & Shop director of public affairs.
Thomas Cullen, vice president of King Kullen Grocery Co. Inc., said they encourage all customers to recycle their plastic bags by bringing them back to the store and depositing them in the recycling bins. "We also hope King Kullen shoppers will purchase the reusable bags we've made available at every store but that is the customer's decision. We believe in offering a choice," Cullen said.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said the giant retailer conducts its program on a store by store level. "There's not going to be a one size fits all option," Lundberg said. "You'll see some stores that will put the reusable bags on the carousel in the front of the stores. Our focus is on how can we provide reusable bags to our customers at the lowest cost. Just like any product at Walmart, our goal is to be the low-cost leader."
Highlights of the survey:
- Stop & Shop was the only store that had extensive signage in parking lots and outside stores to remind shoppers to grab their bags from their car.
- Walmart and Best Yet are the only stores that sell reusable bags for less than 99 cents.
- All stores, with the exception of Trader Joe's, support educational programs that encourage consumers to increase usage of reusable bags over disposable bags.
To read the CCE's full report, click here.