Wegmans supermarkets are getting ahead of New York State’s upcoming ban on single-use plastic bags.
On the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to ban single-use plastic bags starting in March of 2020, supermarket chain Wegmans announced it would eliminate the use of the bags in its New York stores by the end of this year.
At a signing ceremony on Long Island, Cuomo said the new law will reduce litter and cut greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production. Crumpling an empty plastic bag in his hand for effect, Cuomo said the average New Yorker uses 1,500 bags per year, 23 billion a year.
“I have been fishing 40 miles out to sea and found plastic bags. They are everywhere,” Cuomo said. “By 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish.”
Cuomo said he knows that change is hard, but he said it’s a “minor inconvenience” to bring reusable bags with you to the store.
“Yes, like you have to remember to go to the store, and you have to remember to bring your keys, and you have to remember to find a way to get there, and you have to bring your wallet or your purse to pay,” Cuomo said. “And don't forget the phone, because you can't go anywhere without the phone.”
A recent Siena College poll found the majority of New Yorkers support the ban, but there are opponents.
“We know we have a long road ahead of us to get customers into reusable shopping bags, rather than paper bags,” said Wegmans Packaging and Sustainability Manager Jason Wadsworth. “And we want to take all that time to learn from our customers, learn from our employees about the best way to help folks remember to use reusable bags.”
Wegmans will continue to offer paper bags, but Wadsworth notes those bags are more difficult to transport and have a bigger carbon footprint. As part of the state’s legislation to ban plastic bags, counties across New York have the choice to opt in or out of a five cent per paper bag fee. Where applicable, Wadsworth said Wegmans will absorb the cost, rather than passing it on to shoppers.
This isn’t the first step towards environmental sustainability by Wegmans. The company piloted a “zero waste” program at its Canandaigua store in 2016 with the goal of eliminating other types of plastic packaging. It was able to reduce waste by 20 percent, and that success led to a decision to continue to boost productivity.
“This year in 2019, we will reduce in-store plastic packaging by two million pounds,” said Wadsworth.
The company has a goal of seeing a 10 million pound reduction in certain types of plastic packaging by 2024.