Stauffers of Kissel Hill Fresh Foods has decided to celebrate Earth Day 2020 by taking up the hottest environmental issue in retailing.

Effective April 22, it will stop having single-use plastic bags at its checkouts, becoming the first supermarket company in the county to drop them, Stauffers says.

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Stauffers goes through a total of 4.6 million single-use plastic bags at its checkouts a year at its two supermarkets, in Rohrerstown and in Lititz, where Stauffers is based.

It also will stop using large brown paper bags at its checkouts; Stauffers goes through 70,000 of these annually.

“This will be a very important step as we explore ways to be more earth friendly,” said Eric Stauffer, Fresh Foods chief operating officer, in a prepared statement.

To smooth the transition, Stauffers will give away a reusable grocery bag to each customer each time he or she shops there, beginning Wednesday and through Sept. 30.

Stauffers anticipates handing out 100,000 of these over the 2 1/2 week period.

A Stauffers spokeswoman declined to say how much the giveaway will cost the company or how much the company spends a year on single-use plastic bags at the checkouts and the large brown paper bags.

Stauffer, the chief operating officer, said that not only are the reusable bags better for the environment, but they perform better than the single-use plastic bags too.

Reusable bags hold more groceries, are stronger and are easier to load and unload than single-use plastic bags, he said.

What about customers who don’t bring a reusable bag to Stauffers after April 22?

Stauffers already provides customers with free boxes at checkout for packing groceries, a practice that will continue.

Stauffers also will sell the reusable bags — made out of recycled plastic bottles — for $1.59 each.

Spokesmen for three other major supermarket companies in Lancaster County — Weis, Giant, Shady Maple and Wegmans — said their companies have no plans to drop the single-use plastic bags at their checkouts.

However, some major supermarket companies operating in the county, such as Whole Foods and Aldi, never had the single-use plastic bags at checkouts here to begin with.

The Stauffers spokeswoman said dropping single-use plastic bags at its checkouts is one of several “green” steps taken by the company in the past six months.

Others include converting the majority of its plastic foam packing in its produce department to biodegradable trays, switching from plastic foam to eco-friendly containers, napkins and paper straws at its Food Bar and “Under the Tent” sections, and installing more efficient lighting.

“Looking for ways to be environmentally friendly is becoming increasingly important, and as a local company we are evaluating areas where we can make a difference in our community,” the Stauffers spokeswoman said. 

Why are single-use plastic bags drawing such scrutiny?

Single-use plastic bags at checkouts, as well as single-use plastic products (such as beverage bottles) in general, are a major source of pollution worldwide, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Many aren’t recycled or disposed of properly, and because they can take centuries to decompose, that’s bad news for the environment.

When they end up in oceans, they create havoc for marine ecosystems, killing an estimated 100,000 marine animals a year. When they’re thrown on streets and sidewalks, they can clog drains, catch basins and waterways, causing flooding, and create habitats for disease-carrying insects.

As a result, nations, states and cities have enacted bans of single-use plastic bags at checkouts and sometimes other products.

Among the 127 nations to restrict or ban single-use plastic bags are France, India, Italy, Ireland and China. Canada will ban them in 2021.

States to ban the bags are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Cities on board with a bag ban include: Boston; Boulder, Colorado; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco; Portland, Maine; Seattle and Washington D.C.

Locally, Lancaster’s City Council passed a resolution in July 2018 encouraging retailers to stop bagging merchandise in single-use plastic bags and switch to reusable baBut no Pennsylvania municipality will be able to enact a ban or tax on single-use plastic bags or packaging in the near future.

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a one-year moratorium on these bans and taxes while state agencies study the economic and environmental impacts of such measuresgs.

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