Enviromental group grades grocers on using ‘green’ bags

Shoppers at the King Kullen supermarket in Wading River using plastic to carry groceries instead of reusable bags.

Connie Perrone has a grocery shopping ritual.

Every Tuesday morning, the 67-year-old retired teacher drives her Toyota Corolla 1.5 miles to the King Kullen on Route 25A in Wading River.

In her pocketbook, she carries the same grocery list each week.

Mozzarella. Check. Grapes. Check.

And every week she loads each item into her trunk, one plastic bag at a time.

“I usually fill up about 12 bags,” she said.

When asked if she owns any of the reusable bags the grocery chain offers, she responded: “Reusable bags?”

Ms. Perrone’s puzzlement doesn’t sit well with Citizens Campaign for the Environment. This past week, the environmental group issued a report grading the reusable bag policies of 14 Long Island grocery store chains.

While some stores, such as Whole Foods and Stop and Shop received A+ grades, others didn’t fare so well. King Kullen was joined by specialty grocers Uncle Giuseppe’s and Trader Joe’s at the bottom of the list with an F.

“King Kullen is one store that can do a lot more when it comes to reusable bags,” said Maureen Dolan Murphy, the nonprofit group’s executive programs manager and one of the report’s authors.

Scores were based on an eight-question survey, in-store visits and each grocer’s willingness to participate in the project. King Kullen scored a 56, losing points for not training cashiers to ask customers if they have their own bags, not crediting consumers who bring reusable bags and not having signage outside stores to remind customers that reusable bags are an option.

On the flip side, Waldbaum’s did well, earning a B+. The difference between that score and King Kullen’s scores stems largely from the Waldbaum’s policy of crediting customers two cents for every reusable bag they bring when shopping.

No IGA supermarkets, which are all independently owned, were included in the survey.

Ms. Dolan Murphy said she hopes the report will encourage grocery stores to learn from each other on ways to improve their reusable bag policies.

The report did not sit well with all grocers. King Kullen vice president Thomas Cullen said he believed his store does a reasonable job of encouraging shoppers to recycle bags, while still giving the consumer a choice on their bag preferences.

“King Kullen encourages all customers to recycle their plastic bags by bringing them right back to the store and depositing them in the recycling bins,” said Mr. Cullen. “We also hope King Kullen shoppers will purchase the reusable bags we’ve made available at every store — but that is the customer’s decision. We believe in offering a choice.”

Ms. Dolan Murphy said her organization wouldn’t mind seeing plastic bags disappear entirely.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year. Often, they end up as litter on roadways, parks and beaches. Additionally, more than 200 species of marine life are adversely affected by plastic bags that end up in the water, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.

With the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound and the Peconic Estuary surrounding the East End, Ms. Dolan Murphy said, it’s important that residents of the region and all of Long Island do their part to stop using plastic bags. She said she hopes local municipalities join others that have passed legislation requiring stores to ban the distribution of plastic bags or taxing consumers who choose not to shop with reusable bags.

After Westport, Conn., became the first East Coast municipality to ban plastic bags in 2008, there was a 70 percent increase in the number of consumers using with reusable bags there, according to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. It’s estimated that Westport businesses now use 600,000 fewer plastic bags annually than before the ban, according to the group.

“We would love to see a large drop in the number of plastic bags used on Long Island,” Ms. Dolan Murphy said. “Plastic bags are just too prevalent in our waterways, not to mention how much they pollute our parks and roadways.”

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How did our local supermarketfare?

Stop and Shop A+

Waldbaum’s B+

Target B

Best Yet C+

Walmart C+

King Kullen F