Following the announcement of the New York State Ban on one-time use plastic bags, Wegmans wants to ease customers into the transition. The NY State Ban is effective as of March 2020, but Wegmans is phasing out plastic bags in their New York stores by the end of the 2019 year. 

Wegmans manager of Packaging and Sustainability, Jason Wadsworth, says why wait till March. He wants customers to get in the habit of using reusable bags before paper bags are the customers only option. 

“The main reason is we know this is going to be change and transition for our customers. So we know that paper bags have a far greater impact to our environment than reusable bags,” Wadsworth said. ” And we want to get customers used to the transition into reusable shopping bags, not paper bags.”

Emma Henzes

Wadsworth said struggle the struggle is that customers often forget to bring their reusable bags with them every time. A customer advised if you leave the bags in your car, you won’t forget them.

“I want to be clear on one thing though. We are doing this because the ban was put in place for us. We didn’t choose to have plastic bags banned. The one issue that no one has really taken into account with the ban is the impact of paper bags on the environment. Which has a far greater impact on the environment than plastic bags do. We’ve said that all along…” Wegmans has met with city councils to discuss this.

“If they don’t address paper, they are doing the wrong thing.”

Our plastic bags when recycled. We have a 50% recycle rate today. And they are made into brand new Wegmans bags. It’s a closed-loop recycling system. We feel really food about that and the science says that’s a better program than the paper bag.

However, “when it’s decided for us. We have to take action and do the right thing for our customers. And we feel that is getting them into reusable and not paper.”

Wadsworth said the science validated by the Rochester Institute of Technology says the best option is reusable bags, second is plastic bags if they are recycled and then paper bags.

Wegmans stores in other states will continue to have plastic bags, but Wadsworth says Wegmans will continue to spread the message of using reusable bags to all stores in any state. However, Wadsworth said Massechutes and New Jersey have proposed bans similar to that of New York state, but until those laws are passed Wegmans does not have any plans to take plastic bags out of any other state.

Wadsworth said Wegmans is hoping to make their efforts of reducing plastic to customers visible now that they are officially taking out plastic bags. Their restaurant food packaging already has been made with 40 percent less plastic, but Wadsworth said not many people even noticed the difference. The produce bags have already been manufactured with 100 percent plant-based plastic, but Wadsworth said, they still look like plastic.

In the perishable and bakery part of the store, Wadsworth said customers will be able to start seeing more paper-based and renewable products.

“We do have a responsibility to make a difference in our community. That’s one of our pillars.”

As a separate initiative that precedes the bag ban,

Wegmans has been working to reduce single-use plastic. In 2019, they will reduce in-store packaging by 2 million pounds and continue that 2 million a year trend over the next 5 years. In-store packaging is the plastic straws and coffee stir sticks which are now paper and wood-based. The bakery and prepared food packaging will also have reduced plastic. Wadsworth clarified this will not change the grocery store Wegmans brand food or shelf items. But rather the Wegmans café and “restaurant-prepared” foods in the to-go section.

He says this a journey for the company and Wegmans is moving towards zero waste and this is a big step

“We don’t want folks to just use paper. We want to make sure we are provided all the tools for customers to remember to use. It’s going to take a little bit for that habit to form,” Wadsworth said. “Why wait till March 2020 to start doing that. We want customers to make the choice to choose to reuse.”

In store, a reusable Wegmans bag can be purchased for $0.99 and cold and heat bags can be purchased as well. Wadsworth said part of the new initiative is to educate customers on the benefits of reusable bags.

“You’re going to have a better experience using a reusable bag and hopefully that’s a trigger to help you remember to bring them. Because your experience going from the store to your car, the car to your garage is going to be a better experience,” Wadsworth said. “A lot of folks have been using plastic bags for a long time, and we hope to create a new habit.”

Shopper Mike Crowley is one of those customers who already have reusable bags, but he often doesn’t remember to bring them to the grocery store. Otherwise, he doesn’t feel the ban will have a negative effect on his shopping experience.

“There are changes being made and we just have to adapt to it. People are going to have to be more prepared in the stuff they bring. They’ll have to bring their own reusable bags, but we’ll get used to it,” Crowley said.

Crowley feels overall, it will make shopping more convenient for shoppers. Zach Meyer and Kali Purt have already been using reusable bags for a couple of years. They even use reusable mesh bags for produce. Meyer said Wegmans does a good job when it comes to environmental stewardship.

“I actually prefer Wegmans reusable bags compared to some other companies and there’ll a little better,” Meyer said.