Giant Eagle Becomes First U.S. Retailer of Its Size to Set Single-Use Plastic Phaseout
It is the first retailer of its size in the U.S. to make such a commitment, Greenpeace USA senior communications specialist Perry Wheeler told EcoWatch in an email.
"When my great-grandfather and the four other founders started Giant Eagle nearly 90 years ago, they wanted to improve life for people in their communities," Giant Eagle CEO and President Laura Shapira Karet said in the announcement. "Protecting our planet for future generations is a critical way we uphold this commitment today."
We are thrilled to announce today we kicked off the first of several commitments to eliminate single-use plastics f… https://t.co/ySfDETzahY— Giant Eagle, Inc. (@Giant Eagle, Inc.)1576634008.0
The commitment will begin with a six-month pilot program to eliminate plastic bags at stores in Pittsburgh and Ohio's Bexley and Cuyahoga County, the company said. The Pittsburgh pilot program will begin Jan. 15 of 2020 at the Waterworks Market District as a collaboration with Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and Sustainable Pittsburgh.
The retailer will remove all single-use plastic bags from the register, and instead customers will be able to choose between a reusable bag for 99 cents or a paper bag for a 10-cent fee. Customers using food stamps will be exempt from the paper-bag fee, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The reusable bags will be available at all of Giant Eagle's 474 stores, and, for a limited time, the retailer will offer customers a perk for every reusable bag they use starting Tuesday, the chain said.
"This is an important step to say there's a better way of moving forward," Joylette Portlock, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "People care about this, just like they care about climate change."
Giant Eagle will address the issue of climate change too. The single-use plastics commitment is the first specific goal the retailer is announcing as part of a larger "strategic sustainability platform," the company said. It also plans to target waste, carbon emissions, sustainable products and "team member engagement."
Giant Eagle operates stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Maryland, but Greenpeace USA plastics campaigner David Pinsky expressed hope that its commitment would inspire larger companies:
"As other U.S. retailers continue to ignore the plastic pollution crisis, Giant Eagle has shown it understands the urgent need to eliminate single-use plastics from its operations. Giant Eagle has sent a clear message to other retailers that the time for action has come. To truly make a difference for our oceans, waterways, and communities, additional retailers like Target, Walmart, and Albertsons Companies must work alongside consumer goods behemoths like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé to eliminate single-use plastics once and for all.
"While additional details are needed, Giant Eagle's plan to rid its operations of all single-use plastics by 2025 could be game-changing. We hope that the company sticks to this ambitious commitment, and works to speed up the elimination of throwaway plastic bags, which cannot be recycled in curbside programs. Any commitment to eliminate single-use plastics must not rely on false solutions like simply replacing one type of throwaway packaging material with another. Giant Eagle must continue to show leadership by implementing systems of reuse and package-free options in its operations.
And Judith Enck, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator who went on to found Beyond Plastics, told WESA that no more than 10 percent of the plastic Americans put in recycling bins actually gets recycled.
"So the best things we can do as consumers, if we care about public health and the environment, is buy less plastic whenever you have that option," Enck said.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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