Greenpeace Ranks US Grocers for Plastic Reduction Efforts

How does your supermarket rank for its efforts to curb single-use plastics?

plastic-wrapped fruit on a shelf
Plastic-wrapped fruit on a supermarket shelf.

Getty Images/Erlon Silva

Supermarkets provide many important necessities to people, but along with these comes an extraordinary amount of plastic packaging. A new report by Greenpeace, called "Shopping for Plastic: The 2021 Supermarket Plastics Ranking," explores efforts that major food retailers are making to reduce plastic usage in their stores and ranks them accordingly. The idea is that, as a consumer, you can vote with your dollars and support the stores that are making real progress, rather than those making pathetically slow progress.

The report opens with a depressing declaration: All of the 20 supermarkets they assessed received failing grades. None is doing enough to combat this issue of pollution and the problem has gotten worse with the pandemic, with grocery retailers de-prioritizing sustainability in response to COVID-19. From the report:

"Many retailers fell prey to plastics industry propaganda and discontinued bans on single-use plastic checkout bags, delayed implementation of reuse initiatives, and struggled to maintain momentum on sustainability initiatives as corporate priorities shifted to keeping shelves stocked and responding to the public health risks of the pandemic. We now know single-use plastics are not inherently safer than reusables, and supermarkets must embrace a reuse revolution."

This stands in contrast to grocers in the United Kingdom and South Korea that committed during the pandemic to reduce plastic use by 50% by 2025.

Here is the list of U.S. grocers and their rankings (best to worst) which was created based on a standardized 21-question survey that Greenpeace provided, email and phone conversations, and the companies' own public commitments. Scores reflect performance on policy, reduction, initiatives, and transparency; they are out of 100, below 40 is failing. You can click on the stores in the report to see which actions the companies are taking, and where they are falling short.

1. Giant Eagle (34.88/100)

2. ALDI (30.61/100)

3. Sprouts Farmers Market (25.83/100)

4. The Kroger Co. (24.06/100)

5. Albertsons Companies (21.85/100)

6. Costco (20.53/100)

7. Walmart (18.10/100)

8. Ahold Delhaize (16.78/100)

9. Wegmans (15.45/100)

10. Whole Foods Market (15.23/100)

11. Southeastern Grocers (14.79/100)

12. Target (14.35/100)

13. Trader Joe's (14.32/100)

14. Meijer (13.69/100)

15. Publix (12.36/100)

16. Hy-Vee (11.48/100)

17. The Save Mart Companies (7.06/100)

18. Wakefern (4.19/100)

19. WinCo Foods (2.65/100)

20. H-E-B (1.55/100)

Giant Eagle took first place because of its commitment to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2025, although Greenpeace says "additional action is needed to shift its operations toward reuse," in order to reach this goal. From a press release: "H-E-B was again the worst ranked retailer, as the company continues to fail to take any meaningful action on single-use plastics. Walmart, who Greenpeace Inc. recently sued for deceptive recyclability labels on plastic products and packaging, fell to 7th in this year’s ranking. Trader Joe’s and Hy-Vee dropped the furthest, sliding nine spots each to finish 13th and 16th respectively."

John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director, stated that "US retailers are moving at a snail’s pace on plastic reduction efforts. There is not a single place that individuals are confronted with more single-use plastic than in our grocery stores, yet these companies continue to drag their feet and offer excuses. We have seen more greenwashing than action. It is time to turn this around."

Several months ago the organization released a report called "The Smart Supermarket" that described what grocery stores of the future could look like and how they could feasibly move away from single-use plastic. Suggestions included removing superfluous packaging from produce, offering staples in bulk at self-service stations that allow reusable containers, stocking package-free beauty and cleaning products, implementing reward systems for reusable food containers at the deli and prepared foods counter, incentivizing reusable bags at checkout, and introducing reusable packaging for online deliveries. 

All of these exist in some shape or form already, so they are not unreasonable measures to implement across an entire supermarket. They would, however, require a significant mental shift away from disposability and behavioral changes, all of which can be made more attractive through incentives. The supermarkets in this latest list would do well to study that report and see what new measures they could adopt.

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