Plastic bag ban coming to a store near you

December 22, 2018
Customers load up groceries after shopping recently at Smith's. Smith’s, a division of Kroger, will be joining its parent company in eliminating plastic bags by 2025. Fred Meyer, also owned by Kroger, will eventually make the switch, too.

Those convenient plastic bags used by almost every retailer are under attack.

The city of Jackson, Wyoming, has been contemplating a plastic bag ban for months and one major chain with stores in Idaho Falls vows to eliminate plastic bags in the next few years.

A new Albertsons store in Boise doesn’t offer plastic bags, opting only for paper bags or reusable bags.

Plastic bags, while convenient, have a bad environmental rep and often end up blowing across the country.

The bags, which were first designed in 1965, became commonplace in the United States during the 1980s, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report.

“They are showing up in the darkest depths of the oceans to the summit of Mount Everest to the polar ice caps — and creating some major environmental challenges,” the report said.

Some store managers are happy to be done with them.

“They’re only 2 cents a bag, but when you start wasting them — putting one item in a bag, that type of thing — you start adding (costs) up, you can save a half-million dollars by saving one bag per customer a day over the whole company,” said Kerry Kawamura, operations manager at the Idaho Falls Smith’s Food and Drug.

Smith’s, a division of Kroger, will be joining its parent company in eliminating plastic bags by 2025. Fred Meyer, also owned by Kroger, also will eventually make the switch.

“Our customers will have an opportunity to between now and whenever the time is, to transition to reusable bags which is an ideal solution for the environment, which is really the reason we’re doing this,” said Jeffery Temple, media relations for Fred Meyer in Idaho. “It’s part of our zero hunger, zero waste strategy.”

The company’s stores in towns or states that have banned plastic bags have already switched customers to paper or reusable bags. Stores sell the reusable bags for $1 to $3 depending on size and style. The main challenge at first is training customers to bring in reusable bags.

Idaho cities and counties are forbidden to regulate or tax plastic grocery bags under a law passed in 2016. Several other states have passed laws forbidding cities from passing laws against plastic bags. The reason usually given was that regulating grocery bags could be anti-business.

One snag delaying passing the new law in Jackson is how to help small businesses cope with the changeover. Some cities require businesses to collect a fee for non-reusable bags and keep tracks of bag inventory.

California is the only state to ban plastic, single-use bags, making the switch in 2016. According to data from the 2017 Coastal Clean-up Day, the state’s plastic bag litter dropped by 72 percent when compared to 2010.

Temple said Kroger is phasing in the change in different areas of the company and different places around the country.

“Our sister division in (Quality Food Centers) is in the process right now in the Seattle area market,” he said. “We’ll take some lessons on how things work for them and we’ll get the word out to our customers. The customers for the most part seem to be fine with it. But not one solution is perfect for everybody.”

Albertsons also is leaning that direction.

“We plan to help educate the consumer in that area by offering a wide variety of … Albertsons-branded reusable bags for purchase to allow them continued use of a bag for a one-time charge as opposed to the per bag fees charged for paper bags at retailers,” said Kathy Holland, public relations officer for Albertsons Intermountain Division.

Kawamura says customers at Smith’s will see reusable bags at all the checkstands and a display at the front of the store. His store also has a recycle barrel for plastic, single-use bags.

“There’s more people starting to jump on board with that,” he said. “It’s a small percentage but it’s growing here in Idaho.”

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