What We’re Doing to Dial Back on Plastics

Alisa Shargorodsky, Weavers Way Zero-Waste Consultant, and Norman Weiss, Weavers Way Purchasing Manager

As you may know, recycling markets are currently collapsing due to drastic changes in Chinese import laws. A recent article in Grid magazine reported that more than half of recyclables are now being incinerated. Companies that operate incinerators are often out of compliance with environmental safety standards, and facilities are almost always located in or near poor and marginalized communities.

Meanwhile, here at Weavers Way, we cannot deny the demand for single-use plastic products. Plastic packaging dominates every area of the modern grocery store; even metal cans are lined with plastic, including BPA-free cans. It’s unavoidable.

Yet, we also cannot deny how harmful plastic disposal is to our planet, and this concern is being expressed by a growing number of Co-op members every day. Therefore, in spite of huge challenges, we are determined to probe and tackle areas of our operations where we might be able to make some meaningful shifts.

In early February, the Plastic Reduction Task Force hosted a public forum that drew more than 80 members.

Last month, General Manager Jon Roesser led several all-staff meetings that included a presentation on sustainability. Employees heard an overview of past, present and new sustainability measures. The objective was to invite staff support, garner consensus and raise awareness.

We’re looking to make the following improvements:

  • Replacing foam meat trays: The search for a replacement continues, but we have found one that we feel good about. We are planning to move away from foam in coming months, though the cost will be significantly higher to the Co-op.
  • Phasing in new takeout containers in our prep foods department: We recently discovered a line of less harmful Bottlebox plastic containers. They are made of 100 % post-consumer plastic from water and soda bottles.
  • Adding reduced-waste packaging options in bulk: Our bulk departments continue to play a major role in lower-waste shopping, and to facilitate that, the Mt. Airy store now has a free jar and bottle exchange. In addition, we’ll soon have four-packs of Bagito reusable bulk bags available for sale. They’re made from 100% recycled plastic, and can be used in place of single-use bags.
  • Weigh it Wednesday: On Wednesday, April 24, we will offer a 10% discount on all bulk items for shoppers who bring their own containers. Also, we’ll offer 10% off the purchase of a Bagito four pack.

Here are a few measures we plan to implement farther down the line:

  • Stocking paper straws over plastic
  • Improving education for shoppers and staff on how to recycle in order to limit contamination
  • Developing stronger internal waste reduction systems for employees
  • Establishing composting programs in some departments in Ambler.

In other news, the Philadelphia Health Department recently informed us that variances could be granted to the Co-op for certain innovative systems we hope to implement. If that happens, we might more easily be able to reduce volume in our waste streams.

The degree to which we’ll be successful in these measures depends on the shared sense of environmental responsibility from staff and shoppers. Those who have joined the effort to reduce harmful waste at the Co-op are excited and hopeful about finding more responsible ways to do business, and providing more sustainable options for shoppers. As we explore and experiment, we might even develop a model that other businesses can follow.

If you have questions, email the task force at PRTF@weaversway.coop.