Trader Joe's is Phasing Out Single-Use Plastic

The popular grocery chain has made a commitment to be more sustainable in response to customer concerns.

(Michael Vi /

Trader Joe's is an amazing grocery store with a funky tiki-nautical décor that is a cross between a neighborhood grocer and a health food store. The stores feature a large selection of innovative gourmet foods, including gluten-free, under the private Trader Joe's name.

The store has almost 500 locations across the US and has always been environmentally friendly. In 2007, the store phased out single-ingredient foods from China because of customer concerns and in 2013 removed six unsustainable species of fish from its shelves.

That's why Trader Joe's announcement that the company is phasing out single-use plastics and packaging due to customer concerns is the next logical step. Greenpeace had been actively campaigning for Trader Joe's to improve its plastic packaging and recently sent a petition signed by almost 100,000 people to the company's leadership. They also sent letters about the issue to store managers around the country; and Trader Joe’s listened.

"As a neighborhood grocery store, we feel it is important for us to be the great neighbor our customers deserve. Part of that means better managing our environmental impact," Kenya Friend-Daniel, public relations director for Trader Joe's, told EcoWatch. "As we recently shared with our customers, we are working to reduce the amount of packaging in our stores and while we have made a number of positive changes in this space, the world is ongoing."

Trader Joe's announced several improvements that are making their packaging more sustainable. The company already stopped using single-use plastic bags for food carryout and replaced plastic produce bags with biodegradable and compostable options. Trader Joe's also eliminated Styrofoam packages in the produce section. While most of their plastic used in packaging has the highest recyclability acceptance rate in the US, reducing the amount of plastic used is more sustainable.

Trader Joes has also notified vendors of what substances they do not want in their packaging like  Bisphenol A (BPA) & Bisphenol S (BPS); Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs); Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS); Polystyrene (PS); Styrene; Phthalates and they are putting information together about the packaging materials used and how to recycle them to distribute to the chain's customers.

The company vowed to do and replacing Styrofoam trays with PET1 trays, selling more unwrapped lose produce and replacing plastic on greeting cards and flowers to renewable products. The company said: "As we fulfill these steps in 2019, we are eliminating more than 1 million pounds of plastic from our stores. And we expect that number to grow as we continue to identify sustainable opportunities and take action."

“Trader Joe’s decision to phase out some of its most problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging is a direct response to customers pushing them to act. While the company has a long way to go toward ridding its aisles of throwaway plastic packaging, this is a step in the right direction and shows they recognize the growing plastic pollution crisis, " said Greenpeace plastics campaigner Kate Melges in a press release.  

"We can’t simply continue swapping out one throwaway material for another, and as customers, it’s up to all of us to demand that Trader Joe’s and other retailers immediately start shifting toward systems of refill and reuse," said Melges. "It’s going to take supermarkets and consumer goods companies fundamentally rethinking how products are brought to people to make a significant impact on our oceans, waterways, and communities.”

Some companies are taking the elimination of plastics even further. The Original Unverpackt (Original Unpacked in English) is a no-packaging, no big-brand names, zero-waste supermarket in Berlin, Germany. The Clean Kilo, a zero-waste supermarket where you have to be your own fillable containers, opened in Birmingham in the UK in October 2018.

Fast food giant McDonald's has pledged that 100 percent of its packaging will come from renewable, recycled or sustainable sources by 2025 and other food chains are working towards that goal too.

There is even a new online grocer, Loop that will be piloting reusable containers to eliminate plastic waste in New York and Paris. Reducing single-use plastics and recycling or upcycling plastics are a worldwide concern.

But removing plastic from our environment is ongoing, something that Trader Joe's calls "never-ending work" and their commitment is very encouraging. Hopefully, other major retailers will follow suit and it will have a much bigger impact than just a drop in the ocean in the ongoing efforts to save our planet from the impact of plastic waste.

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