Departure: Wegmans to eliminate plastic bags

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Wegmans announced this month that the popular East Coast grocery chain will completely remove plastic bags from all stores by the end of 2022. The Bethlehem Wegmans is one of 106 stores that plan to switch from plastic bags over the next eight months.

In 2019, Wegmans first removed all plastic bags from its Ithaca and Corning stores in New York. In January 2020, all Wegmans locations in New York City imposed restrictions on the use of plastic bags ahead of the statewide ban.

Marcie Rivera, a public relations specialist for Wegmans, said the New York pilot project aimed to understand the true impact of removing plastic bags, how to make the transition seamless for employees and customers, and how to help customers switch to reusable bags.

From the success of the pilot, came Wegmans’ plans to eliminate plastic bags from every location in the country.

“Today, plastic bags have been eliminated at 61 stores, including additional stores in Virginia, as well as select stores in Massachusetts and Maryland,” Rivera said in an email.

At many Wegmans locations, plastic bags remain the only option. To ensure a smooth transition, Wegmans finds an alternative to plastic bags that meets customer needs.

“We understand that shoppers are used to receiving plastic bags at checkout and losing that option requires a significant change,” Rivera said. “We’re here to help our customers through this transition as we focus on what’s good for the environment.”

Through its zero waste initiative, Wegmans plans to reduce the total amount of plastic used in manufacturing and at checkout, as well as increase the recycling rate of stores nationwide. Rivera said the company is committed to reducing in-store packaging made from fossil fuels and other single-use plastics in their stores. Their aim is to reduce the use of these items by 10 million pounds by 2024.

Stacy Burger, director of global partnerships and strategic initiatives at Lehigh, has been a frequent guest at Wegmans in Bethlehem for the past 15 years.

“If the research supports eliminating all plastic bags is good for the environment, then I support it 100%,” Burger said.

In June 2006, Burger and his family moved to Bethlehem from Germany, where plastic bags are not usually provided.

“I was surprised when we moved here,” Burger said. “You had to bring your own bags to every store in Germany – here not so much.”

Amanda Mircovich, 25, is a student-athlete on the Lehigh track team. Prior to meetings, Mircovich often shops for groceries at Bethlehem Wegmans to fuel him. Many students go shopping for the first time when they are in school.

“At home, I use reusable bags,” Mircovich said. “But I don’t have reusable bags here with me.”

Wegmans hopes to switch customers to reusable bags by making them available for purchase in-store and encouraging customers to bring their own. If successful, this will save the distribution of around 345 million plastic bags per year.

“Hopefully if it’s the right thing to do for the environment…maybe it will encourage other local grocery stores to do the same thing,” Burger said.

Wegmans isn’t the only company to introduce plastic bag reduction: Stores such as Walgreens and CVS have also announced plans to eliminate their use of plastic bags. Rivera said Wegmans expects the trend of eliminating plastic bags to continue as the bags are banned in new markets.

Eight states, including New York and California, already ban plastic bags. In Pennsylvania, the plastic bag ban in Philadelphia was officially approved by the city on April 1.

For frequent customers of Wegmans of Bethlehem, keep an eye out for the new plastic bag policy – and don’t forget to bring a reusable bag when shopping.

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