Mariano's ditching plastic bags, giving momentum to a growing trend
Paper or plastic? Customers at Mariano's -- and possibly other stores -- eventually will not have the choice at the checkout line.
The Kroger Co., Mariano's parent, is phasing out single-use plastic bags and transitioning to reusable bags in its stores across the country by 2025. The nation's largest grocery chain said it will be plastic bag-free at all of its nearly 2,800 stores.
The grocery chain is part of a growing shift at major U.S. corporations to reduce waste. Disney, Starbucks, Marriott, Great Wolf Lodge and McDonald's are getting rid of plastic straws. Additional companies are jumping on board with the straw ban and other measures meant to keep plastic waste out of landfills and waterways.
Will the trend to eliminate plastic bags catch on with other grocers?
Experts say it's a very strong possibility.
"When a large retailer like Kroger gets behind it, it will quickly gain a lot of momentum," said retail consultant Neil Stern, senior partner with McMillan Doolittle in Chicago.
"There's no question that retailers have a responsibility to address environmental issues, and this will hopefully spur more responsible use of resources."
A spokeswoman at Itasca-based Jewel-Osco would not say if the company has plans to cut back on plastic.
However, "Jewel-Osco has been offering reusable bags at all 187 locations since 2014," said spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco. They range in price from a dime to a dollar, she said.
Some communities are taking a different approach. For example, Oak Park has a 10-cent charge for single-use bags that shoppers pay at larger retailers. Retailers keep 5 cents of each fee charged, while the other nickel goes to the village's sustainability fund. Chicago has a 7-cent-per-bag fee, and similar charges are common in cities across the U.S.
For years, Aldi, the discount grocer based in Batavia, has not offered free bags. Shoppers can pay for reusable or paper bags. But most shoppers bring their own cloth bags.
Kroger is enthusiastic about its upcoming change.
"It's a bold move that will better protect our planet for future generations," Kroeger CEO Rodney McMullen said. He added that some estimates suggest that 100 billion single-use plastic bags are thrown away in the U.S. every year.
Currently, less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled annually in America, and single-use plastic bags are the fifth-most-common single-use plastic found in the environment, McMullen said.
Studies show it will take 500 or more years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. The bags don't break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.
Kroger, which orders about 6 billion bags each year, will begin phasing out their use immediately at its QFC chain based in Seattle, a city that has been proactive in reducing plastic use. The grocer said it would first offer paper bags instead of plastic and sell reusable bags for $1 or $2, depending on the market, with a goal of getting all customers to adopt reusable bags over the next seven years.
The company said it expects Seattle's transition to be complete in 2019.
Is is unknown when the company will eliminate plastic bags at suburban stores and across the country.
"We don't have a timeline for Illinois yet," said Kroger spokesman Eric Halvorson. "Only the QFC schedule is set. Those stores are further ahead in the process."
He added that it takes time to roll out. "We want to give our customers time to prepare for the change."
Company leaders along with environmentalists say it's a change needed to be made.
"We listen very closely to our customers and our communities, and we agree with their growing concerns," said Mike Donnelly, Kroger's executive vice president and COO.
7 things to know about plastic bags1. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.
2. The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.
3. According to Waste Management, only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means that the average family recycles only 15 bags a year; the rest end up in landfills.
4. Up to 80 percent of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land.
5. 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.
6. Plastic bags are used for 12 minutes, on average.
7. It takes up to 500 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity