Supermarket chain plans to eliminate plastic grocery bags at its New York stores by the end of the year

Wegmans announced Monday plans to reduce its in-store plastic packaging made from fossil fuels — along with other single-use plastics like straws — by 2 million pounds in 2019. The supermarket chain set a longtime goal of a 10-million-pound reduction by 2024.

Wegmans also plans to eliminate plastic grocery bags at its stores in New York state by the end of the year, in advance of the state ban that will take effect March 1, 2020. The new law will ban most plastic bags provided to customers at supermarkets and other retail businesses.

“By the end of this year, we will eliminate the use of plastic grocery bags in our New York State stores,” stated Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans packaging and sustainability manager. “We want to get out ahead of this because we have a lot to learn from our customers about how we can help them make the shift to reusable bags, which are far better than paper bags for the environment.”

The elimination of plastic bags in New York state will not be counted toward the company’s plastic-reduction commitment for 2019 or its 2024 goal. The Rochester-based supermarket chain said it will achieve those goals largely by eliminating some current plastic packaging and replacing it with materials made from plant-based renewable fiber. Wegmans will also continue working closely with The Center for Sustainable Packaging at Rochester Institute of Technology to identify new methods and packaging innovations.

“We’re taking measurable steps to improve and implement programs that increase our recycling rate, minimize waste, and help make a difference in every community we serve,” stated Wadsworth. “One area we’re paying particular attention to is packaging. We need to ensure packaging is functional and performs as expected, which is key to reducing food waste. But, it must also use materials efficiently and responsibly, and be recyclable whenever possible.”

In the first quarter of the year, Wegmans made the switch from plastic straws and drink stir sticks to renewable fiber alternatives at all its stores and corporate worksites. Along with the straws and stir sticks, Wegmans is also now using renewable fiber for boxes of its donuts and celebrations cakes. Wegmans will be introducing its new packaging that meets its 2019 and 2024 goals at its website, https://www.wegmans.com/sustainability.

“We are currently in the process of testing a number of packaging options,” said Tracy Van Auker, Wegmans media relations coordinator.

The focus on sustainable packaging is part of the company’s Zero Waste program, an initiative aimed at eliminating all forms of waste at its stores. The program started as a one-year pilot at the company’s Canandaigua store in 2016, and has since been rolled out to a total of 30 stores, with more slated for the future.

Wegmans has 98 supermarkets throughout six states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

“Since putting a major focus on sustainable packaging in 2015, we’ve made great progress and have picked up a good deal of momentum,” stated Wadsworth. “But with the aggressive goal we’ve set, momentum alone isn’t enough. We need to kick it into high gear.”

So far, examples of how Wegmans has reduced plastic throughout its stores include: food bar containers that use 40 percent less plastic and are recyclable; doughnut and celebration cake boxes made from 100 percent recycled paper content; produce bags made from 100 percent plant-based renewable materials; and rotisserie chicken pouches that use 75 percent less plastic than the previously used plastic domes.

Since Wegmans introduced reusable grocery bags in 2007, the company “has put an emphasis on educating customers of their benefits. Not only are they the best option for the environment, but they also hold more groceries without breaking or tearing, requiring fewer bags per shopping trip than paper or plastic bags,” added Wegmans.