Giant Eagle announced last week that the grocery chain plans to eliminate all single-use plastic from its operations by 2025 in an effort to improve the environment. Starting Jan. 1, the chain plans to stop using plastic bags at its Cuyahoga County stores, supportive of the county ban. The stores will sell reusable bags for 99-cents and paper bags for 10-cents each.

“We’re looking at how we can be a leader in this space,” Giant Eagle spokesman Dan Donovan told the Times. “Supermarkets are a key destination where single-use plastics are coming from.”

Mr. Donovan said that Giant Eagle stores are encouraging the use of reusable bags with a limited time offer of “one perk per reusable bag used” promotion. This promotion went into effect on Dec. 18. He also noted that customers paying with government funded cards such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children will be exempt from the paper bag fee.

There also will be a pilot program to study single-use plastic in Bexley, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania store locations. Bexley was the second Ohio municipality to pass a plastic bag ban behind Orange Village. Cuyahoga County Council approved a similar ban effective Jan. 1 with full enforcement pushed back to July of 2020. State lawmakers, meanwhile, are working on legislation prohibiting local plastic-bag bans.

Giant Eagle has more than 470 stores throughout western Pennsylvania, north central Ohio, northern West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana.

Mr. Donovan said that Giant Eagle has been committed to sustainability for many years, but internal conversations about eliminating single-use plastics have been going on for nearly a year. Although the grocery chain is starting by eliminating plastic bags, it plans to expand its efforts. For example, Mr. Donovan said that some locations are offering an alternative to plastic straws. In 2020, he said that stores will introduce a single serve Giant Eagle brand boxed water to discourage the use of plastic water bottles.

“We’re engaging with national brand partners and other supply partners, as well,” he added.

Giant Eagle’s platform on sustainability also focuses on waste, carbon emissions, more sustainable products and team member engagement, according to a Giant Eagle press release. The corporation also plans to remove other plastics besides bags. For example, when the products are delivered to the grocery store, they are encased in a plastic wrap.

“When we talk about a pilot, it’s not a matter of reintroducing plastic,” Mr. Donovan said. “When we remove plastic, we want to do it the right way.”

Some people use the bags they receive at the grocery store to line their trash cans at home. Mr. Donovan said that Giant Eagle will monitor the sale of trash bags to see if a ban on plastic bags at the point of sale impacts the store’s trash bag sales.

“If our effort does not impact single use plastic leaving stores, then the product variety we have is not supporting what we’re trying to do with single-use plastic,” he said.

Other local grocery stores, such as Heinen’s Fine Foods, have expressed concerns about the higher cost of paper bags instead of plastic bags. Co-owner Jeff Heinen said that a plastic bag ban would cost the company an additional $2 million to $3 million per year. Mr. Donovan said that it is difficult to determine the cost to Giant Eagle for the switch, but agreed that paper is more expensive than plastic.

“There is a short term risk for cost. Long term, we are doing this as a net neutral impact on our costs,” he said. “We’re encouraging customers to use reusable bags. That will offset the use of paper bags.”

Giant Eagle stores currently have recycling bins outside where customers can return their plastic bags, including shopping bags, bread bags, newspaper sleeves and dry cleaner bags. At the stores where single use plastic is removed, Mr. Donovan said that employees will monitor the bins and how often they are used. If they are not used, Giant Eagle may consider removing those bins, he said.

Starting Jan. 1, customers at Giant Eagle locations in Cuyahoga County must either use reusable bags or pay 10 cents per paper bag.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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