Will Kroger’s ban mean the end of plastic bags in grocery stores?

Images source: Kroger
Aug 24, 2018
George Anderson

Starting next year, Kroger will begin phasing out single-use plastic bags at all its stores with a goal of eliminating their use entirely by 2025.

The grocery giant announced that its Seattle-based QFC business will be the first division to phase out use of plastic bags by transitioning to reusable bags by the end of next year. The move is part of Kroger’s commitment to eliminate tons of material, including corrugated paper, food and plastic bags, that is transported to the nation’s landfills every year.

“The plastic shopping bag’s days are numbered,” wrote Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO of Kroger, in an editorial on the Cincinnati Enquirer’s site. “Major cities around the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston, have banned their use in retail settings. Our customers have told us it makes no sense to have so much plastic only to be used once before being discarded. And they’re exactly right.”

Mr. McMullen wrote that Kroger is gradually phasing out the use of plastic bags to give customers in markets around the country the opportunity to prepare for grocery shopping without them. Kroger, which currently goes through about six billion single-use plastic bags a year, will begin shifting to paper bags while selling reusable bags in its stores for $2 or less. The goal is to get to 100 percent reusable bags by 2025.

Kroger’s CEO called on others in the food industry, including other retailers, restaurants and suppliers, to join his company in setting a goal of zero waste starting with the elimination of plastic bags.

The issue of waste goes beyond plastic bags. Kroger’s site points to a direct connection between hunger and waste in the U.S. Today, one in eight Americans face hunger on a daily basis while more than 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten. Last year, Kroger sent more than 91 million pounds of food to food banks and pantries and provided more than 325 million meals to needy families.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Kroger’s Zero Hunger/Zero Waste initiative have an effect, positive or negative, on the company’s top and bottom lines? Do you expect most other grocery chains to follow Kroger in phasing out single-use plastic grocery bags?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Coming out now to acknowledge this allows for them to garner solid PR and become a leading voice in the conversation."
"People will adjust, and when they do, they’ll realize how much easier it is to use and lug reusables anyway!"
"I’m for common sense solutions, and plastic bags in the future will be made from combinations of biodegradable material, to lessen the waste..."

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21 Comments on "Will Kroger’s ban mean the end of plastic bags in grocery stores?"

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Neil Saunders

I am not against anything to reduce waste. However, I am always very skeptical of these kinds of initiatives as I think they have more to do with Kroger’s bottom line than their desire to protect the environment.

I also don’t really believe that Kroger’s customers told them they didn’t want plastic bags. Some might have, but I honestly don’t believe the majority are really all that concerned. Indeed, there will likely be some that are annoyed at not being able to get plastic bags.

In any case, it’s no great loss. Kroger has the cheapest, thinnest plastic bags anyway!

Cathy Hotka

Thank you, Kroger. We in DC have seen a noticeable downturn in river pollution after the city council mandated a 5 cent charge per plastic bag. Customers will applaud Kroger’s leadership and the community will be better for it.

Bob Amster

I certainly hope that other grocery chains will follow suit! While many Americans and most businesses don’t like regulation, most businesses (with some stellar exceptions) watch the bottom line first and the environment third or fourth. In this case, the company may spend more in the beginning by using paper or even by giving away re-usable shopping bags. (My mother and all her peers owned their own shopping bags made of a net material.) We are going back in that direction unless we are having groceries delivered. More environmentally-conscious consumers coming into the market may define the end of the plastic bag.

Ron Margulis

Answering the second question first, there will definitely be other grocery chains (and mass merchants, drug stores, DIY retailers, department stores, etc.) who will phase out bags in the coming years. This will happen due to a combination of changing habits (delivery or store pick-up in reusable bins/bags) and ongoing retailer efforts to reduce all consumable packaging (containers, straws, cups, etc.).

The impact on Kroger is a lot more subjective. They are on the bleeding edge of this, so they could take a hit in the form of dissatisfied customers during the course of rolling it out. That could be made up by attracting shoppers who had previously avoided Kroger stores in favor of more environment-friendly retailers.

Evan Snively

2025 is a very reasonable timeline. The way that this movement is headed (look at California lawmakers’ decision on plastic straws yesterday) would suggest that there will be some sort of legislation in place to address single-use plastic bags by then anyway. Coming out now to acknowledge this allows for them to garner solid PR and become a leading voice in the conversation so they can begin to influence the outcome. Good on Kroger for helping further the cause.

Adrian Weidmann

I’m in complete agreement with Cathy. Thank you Kroger for taking this initiative. I’d like to see these bags go away faster. Frankly, I don’t care what the motivation was for Kroger — cost savings or social responsibility. Either way, it’s the right thing to do. Hopefully others will have the courage — or business sense — to follow suit.

Steve Montgomery

The issue of eliminating one-time use of plastic continues to grow. Plastic bags have been a topic for some time and the latest addition to the trend has been plastic straws. I’m not sure about other markets but where I live we can add the plastic bags to the other items that can be recycled and are picked up weekly. Naturally not everyone does so.

Kroger’s dropping the bags will add to its bottom line if the profit lost from those of customers who elect to shop elsewhere is less than the savings of the cost of buying of six billion bags. Will others follow? I believe so. This has gone from a small movement to a growing trend whether legislated or not.

The one caution is reusable bags should be cleaned. Here again not everyone does.

Gene Detroyer

Plastic bags are leaving us. Not because of the Kroger initiative, but because cities and states are leading the way. Kroger is just trying to get ahead of the curve of the inevitable. Their target is 2025 to have 100 percent compliance. My prediction is that by 2025, every major city will have already banned plastic bags.

Shep Hyken

It’s not about the cost of bags. It’s about the idea of moving to reusables. It’s about being “green.”

Tony Orlando

Plastic bags will still be around, and for me I’m always skeptical of these moves as Kroger wants avoid the scorn of the folks who want to ban plastic straws. Yes I’m for common sense solutions, and plastic bags in the future will be made from combinations of biodegradable material, to lessen the waste in our landfills. The change will come from very smart folks who will create new packaging that will do no harm.

Brandon Rael

Well done Kroger! We all have become increasingly environmentally conscious, and retailers along with grocers have started to step up to the plate with these very necessary moves. I am in agreement that there are clear economic cost savings for Kroger to leverage reusable bags, yet this will also help to mitigate the environmental impact of plastic.

The other challenge for grocers and others is to help change the customer behavior by either completely phasing out plastic bags, charging a fee for them or incentivizing customers to use reusable bags.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Kroger’s move in both areas should be applauded and emulated by others. Why wait for the government to mandate behavior? Ironically, Feargal Quinn of SuperQuinns in Ireland introduced colorful, reusable grocery shopping bags over 25 years ago. He offered different colors for different products, e.g., red for meat, green for fruit and veg, etc.

While teaching in Ireland during this time period, I witnessed an interaction between Feargal and a customer regarding bag colors. She asked him why he didn’t offer more than the above noted traditional colors. He explained the link between the colors offered and the related products. She responded, “I’m looking for colors to coordinate with my outfits.” (LOL) I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Kroger and others get such requests.

Laura Davis-Taylor

California has been on this wagon for years. So has Aldi. When you don’t have plastic bags, you buy reusable ones or you bring your own. It’s the right thing to do (regardless of the true intent). I just wish that they would make it a mandate MUCH SOONER. Why wait so many years? People will adjust, and when they do, they’ll realize how much easier it is to use and lug reusables anyway!

Ken Morris

Eliminating plastic bags won’t have a noticeable impact on Kroger’s bottom line. While it will eliminate the cost of plastic bags and they will have additional revenue from the reusable bags they sell, it isn’t the driver of this initiative. Plastic bags are horrible for our environment and one day they will likely be banned entirely in the U.S., or at least I hope they will. I mean let’s face it — BYOB is easy. Even if you forget the bags in your car, like I sometimes do, I just load them into the cart and bag them at the car. Today even socially conscious retailers still use plastic bags, packaging, straws, etc. We all need to rethink our environmental approach.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic, floating trash halfway between Hawaii and California, has grown to more than 600,000 square miles – twice the size of Texas. Kudos for Kroger for doing their part in helping to solve this problem.

Al McClain

Its a start. It’s not fast enough for me and many others, but Kroger will no doubt get plenty of complaints. Plastic is such a huge pollution issue, but still gets overlooked by those who don’t look in rivers and streams, or even out their car windows along the roadsides, and don’t pay attention to their own habits.

Ed Rosenbaum

Yes Al, Kroger may get complaints. It always happens when things change. There are those who do not adapt to change very well. But as soon as this bandwagon starts to grow, the complaints will change to cheers.

Matthew Stern
Being in Chicago where the plastic bag ban went into effect a while back, I can say first hand that this is something customers get comfortable with pretty quickly. Here you can still buy a plastic bag for 7 cents if you absolutely need to, but it still drastically reduces the number of plastic bags people use. As many have mentioned, since plastic grocery bags are probably on their way out nationwide anyway, this does have a strong PR element and Kroger is getting ahead of the trend. As for blowback — I can see there being more complaining about the change than anything. Of course in municipalities where plastic bags are banned you don’t have the choice of going — as a matter of principle — to another grocer that has them. But again, in Chicago everyone could just pay an extra 7 cents per bag and continue to use as many as they want if they were really committed to it. They don’t, because bringing your own bag has become the default. Customers… Read more »
Mike Osorio

There is no reason to get lost in a discussion on Kroger’s motives. We have reached a tipping point where some combination of regulations, consumer demand, and pressure from others in the industry. It is very good for Kroger, with their immense size, to lead this further to the moment when single-use plastic bags will be virtually eliminated from the industry, along with all the other waste-reduction initiatives.

Craig Sundstrom

I don’t see this as a big issue either way … the world wasn’t much different in the thousands of years before plastic bags came along (at least not in a way that had anything to do with them).

As for the bags themselves, and their place or not in society, I think the far bigger issue is going to be with drug stores since they typically sell small batches of items that the bags are typically used for (or any type of store, really that typically sells this amount). The world will go on, but yes, some people will resent the loss of choice if they disappear.

Ananda Chakravarty

Impact to Kroger: The cost of bags wouldn’t be negligible over time. Even at 4 cents a bag, 6B bags is $240MM. Higher paper bag costs will offset this savings (and the jury’s still out on environmental impact for paper vs plastic). Behavioral change for consumers to reusable bags may take the seven year forecast, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Other chains will follow suit only if it suits them. One aspect to this will be checkout bagging — something that some chains, like warehouse clubs — Costco, Sam’s Club and BJs — have eliminated altogether. But it may change the interaction with customers. The social value is noteworthy, but the immediate benefit isn’t clear (financially), nor does it translate into a watershed of customers buying at Kroger rather than competitors.

Larry Corda

I’m not sure if the motivation is environmental or cost savings. If Kroger is serious about the environment then they should take a look at their private label products and vendor products and reduce packaging waste in those products as well by 2025. I would like to see Kroger donate all profits from the sale of recyclable bags to environmental causes. Customers will embrace this move over time if Kroger “leads by example” and not “do as I say, not as I do.”

"Coming out now to acknowledge this allows for them to garner solid PR and become a leading voice in the conversation."
"People will adjust, and when they do, they’ll realize how much easier it is to use and lug reusables anyway!"
"I’m for common sense solutions, and plastic bags in the future will be made from combinations of biodegradable material, to lessen the waste..."

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