In a national push to reduce single-use plastic bags, Fred Meyer and its parent company Kroger announced that the company, and all of its 29 grocery chains, will phase out its standard plastic grocery bags by 2025.
Kroger’s chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said in a press release that this is part of the company’s zero-waste initiative.
“It’s a bold move that will better protect our planet for future generations,” McMullen said.
Fred Meyer has 132 stores and is one of 29 banner names under the Kroger brand.
Jim Siekman, the store manager for Fred Meyer in Roseburg, said he already sees customers walking around with reusable bags. He said phasing out plastic grocery bags is a good move to make, although he has not been told when the transition will happen in his store.
“Kroger’s a big company, so you don’t know when it’s going to affect which decision and when, but no word locally at this point,” Siekman said. “Whatever directions they put down, we follow. We’ve also used recycled bags for a long time and a lot of our customers use reusable bags.”
Fred Meyer shopper Bob Bass said it would take the store or the city moving to plastic-free for him to switch but he supported the change.
“If it’s the thing to do, why not do it now?” Bass asked. “If the stores want to do this, I think that’s the right thing to do instead of being city-mandated. When they make that change here, I’ll get my permanent bags.”
The fade-out will start with Seattle-based QFC as Kroger moves to encourage customers like Bass to switch to the reusable bags.
“We don’t know that the fade-out actually is going to take that long once it happens,” Kroger spokesman Jeffery Temple said. “We are just giving our customers a generous window to get accustomed to the idea.”
The push for reusable bags as the environmentally friendly alternative is debated by researchers like University of Oregon chemistry professor David Tyler. His study discovered the cost of single-use plastic bags is lower than many people might assume.
Tyler said the biggest issue with plastic bags is they don’t degrade, but they have a low carbon footprint and produce less greenhouse gases than other types of grocery bags.
According to The Economist, a British government analysis from 2011 calculated that a cotton tote bag must be used 131 times before greenhouse-gas emissions from making and transporting it improve on disposable plastic bags. The figure rises to 173 times if 40 percent of the plastic bags are reused as trash can liners as they often are. The carbon footprint of a paper bag that is not recycled is four times that of a plastic bag.
Tyler said at a talk in 2012, only 3 percent of the petroleum used in the U.S. is going toward making plastic while 87 percent goes toward energy and transportation.
“I’m always very careful not to say one’s better for the environment but to say it really depends on what environmental impact you most want to alleviate or mitigate,” Tyler said.
The U.S. has consistently recycled only 9 percent of its plastic waste since 2012, so companies and cities are encouraging customers and citizens to move toward reusables. Eugene and Portland banned plastic bags in grocery stores and retail outlets in 2013 and 2011, respectively. Beyond the U.S., entire countries, including Bangladesh, France and Rwanda, have banned plastic bags.
“I try to use my reusable bags as often as possible, even not just for groceries, but clothing items and personal items,” Fred Meyer shopper Megan Smith said. “I always joke: “Save the plastic trees.”
Fred Meyer and other local grocers offer plastic bag recycling to reduce the amount of wasted plastic. “Chemists are problem solvers,” Tyler said. “There are huge research efforts now underway to see how we make these plastics degrade after they’re used into harmless products. Plastic bags won’t be non-degradable forever. We’ll solve that problem. I’m totally optimistic of that.”