Wegmans announced this month that the popular east coast grocery chain will completely remove plastic bags from all stores by the end of 2022. The Bethlehem Wegmans is one of 106 stores planning to go plastic bag-less in the next eight months.
In 2019, Wegmans first removed all plastic bags from its Ithaca and Corning, New York stores. In January 2020, all Wegmans locations in New York placed restrictions on plastic bag use ahead of the statewide ban.
Marcie Rivera, a public relations specialist for Wegmans, said the New York pilot was aimed at understanding the true impact of removing plastic bags, how to make the transition seamless for employees and customers, and how to help customers with the shift to reusable bags.
From the pilot’s success, came Wegmans’ plans to eliminate plastic bags from all locations nationwide.
“Today, plastic bags have been eliminated at 61 stores, including additional Virginia locations, as well as at select stores in Massachusetts and Maryland,” Rivera said in an email.
At many Wegmans locations, plastic bags are still the only option. To ensure the transition is smooth, Wegmans is finding an alternative to plastic bags that suit customer needs.
“We understand shoppers are accustomed to receiving plastic bags at checkout and losing that option requires a significant change,” Rivera said. “We are here to help our customers with this transition as we focus on doing what’s right for the environment.”
Through their zero-waste initiative, Wegmans plans to lessen the total amount of plastic used in manufacturing and at checkout, as well as increase the recycling rate of stores nationwide. Rivera said the company is committed to reducing in-store packaging made from fossil fuels and other single-use plastics in their stores. Their goal is to reduce the use of these items by 10 million pounds by 2024.
Stacy Burger, director of global partnerships and strategic initiatives at Lehigh, has been a frequent shopper at the Wegmans of Bethlehem for the past 15 years.
“If the research supports that removing all plastic bags is beneficial to the environment, then I’m 100 percent supportive of it,” Burger said.
In June 2006, Burger and her family moved to Bethlehem from Germany, where plastic bags are not typically provided.
“I was surprised when we moved here,” Burger said. “You had to bring your own bags to every store in Germany — here, not so much.”
Amanda Mircovich, ‘25, is a student-athlete on Lehigh’s Track and Field team. Before meets, Mircovich often goes grocery shopping at the Bethlehem Wegmans for foods that will fuel her. Many college students are grocery shopping for themselves for the first time when at school.
“At home I use reusable bags,” Mircovich said. “But I don’t have reusable bags here with me.”
Wegmans hopes to transition their customers to reusable bags by making them available to purchase in store and encouraging customers to bring their own. If successful, this will save the distribution of around 345 million plastic bags per year.
“I would hope, if it’s the right thing to do for the environment … that it would encourage other local grocery stores maybe to do the same thing,” Burger said.
Wegmans is not the only company that has introduced reducing the use of plastic bags: stores such as Walgreens and CVS have also announced plans to eliminate their plastic bags use. Rivera said Wegmans expects the trend of eliminating plastic bags to continue since the bags are banned in new markets.
Eight states, including New York and California, already have bans on plastic bags. In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia plastic bag ban was officially endorsed by the city on April 1.
For frequent customers of the Wegmans of Bethlehem, keep an eye out for a new plastic bag policy — and don’t forget to bring a reusable bag when shopping.