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Trying To Avoid Plastic? These 5 Supermarket Chains Are Your Best Bet

Emma Loewe
June 13, 2019
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
June 13, 2019

Oftentimes, the grocery store is where plastic-free intentions go to die. Aisles are stocked with single-use packaging of all kinds—some of it necessary to protect the integrity and shelf life of our food; some, not so much. (I still can't get the image of the individually cling-wrapped eggs I saw the other week out of my head.) That being said, certain stores are doing more than others to cut back on gratuitous packaging.

Greenpeace recently set out to rate major grocery chains in the U.S. based on their plastic packaging and, pretty unsurprisingly given the advocacy group's high environmental standards, every store technically failed. The scores were assigned based on Greenpeace's analysis of retailers' sustainability policies and goals, plastic reduction efforts, and transparency. While the industry certainly has a long way to go, the good news that came out of the report is that a lot of stores are working hard at combatting the problem—five of the top innovators are below.

Here's a quick recap of the front-runners and the initiatives that set them apart:

1. Aldi

Aldi earned the top slot in this ranking due largely to its commitment to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. The chain can make this sweeping pledge because the vast majority of its products (more than 90 percent) are private label.

2. Kroger

Kroger is the first grocery store to pilot the new Loop program—a worldwide initiative that offers consumer goods in reusable containers to be collected curbside, cleaned, and refilled with the same product. Plus, the chain has committed to phasing out single-use plastic checkout bags by 2025.

3. Albertsons

Albertsons was one of the few chains with a pledge to reduce single-use plastics and plastic waste in the seafood space in particular.

4. Trader Joe's

Late last year, Trader Joe's announced a plan to remove 1 million pounds of plastic packaging from across its stores. To do so, it will use strategies like nixing single-use plastic carryout bags, replacing plastic flower bags with renewable ones, and switching to compostable produce trays.

5. Sprouts

Greenpeace highlighted the fact that Sprouts is actively pursuing compostable alternatives to single-use plastic and is more transparent about its total plastic footprint than most other retailers.

For some more information and context, you can check out the entire ranking here. The report is a testament to the fact that in the grocery industry, there's a lot of room for more transparent, rigorous targets and investment in packaging material innovation.

What shoppers can do to encourage their favorite chains to rethink their packaging.

We won't be able to swap out plastic food packaging overnight. Finding viable alternatives that are sustainable in the long run will take time, resources, and a lot of creativity. As consumers, we can all encourage swifter change by voting with our dollars. If more people opt into package-free foods where they can, stores will respond by offering them at a faster clip.

Next time you write your grocery list, see if you can find any of its items in a bulk bin (this resource will help you find ones near you in the U.S.). When it comes to fruits and veggies, buy them loose and store them in your own reusable bags. If you're lucky enough to live in a city that has a dedicated plastic-free market, head there. (You can now find these beyond the usual suspects like New York and Portland—but also places like Idaho and Florida have them too.) And if you do need to buy something that comes in packaging, opt for recyclable material when you can. A general rule of thumb is that hard plastics and paper/cardboard packaging (as long as they're not lined with plastic coating) tend to be easier for recycling facilities to break down.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.