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Giant Eagle Becomes First U.S. Retailer of Its Size to Set Single-Use Plastic Phaseout

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A Giant Eagle store in New Castle, Pennsylvania on May 13, 2017. Murat Tanyel / Flickr

Pittsburgh-based grocery store chain Giant Eagle announced Tuesday that it will eliminate single-use plastics by 2025.

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."

The retailer said it will target plastic bags, straws, bottles and serving containers. It will also stop using plastic to wrap all of its products, such as bread loaves and hot dogs, WESA reported.

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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