Shopping for Plastic: The 2021 Supermarket Plastics Ranking

How does your favorite supermarket rank when it comes to reducing the plastic pollution flooding our oceans, waterways, and communities?

We’ve ranked 20 major U.S. grocery retailers based on their efforts to reduce their reliance on plastics and tackle the pollution crisis. Every minute the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the oceans. That plastic can kill whales, seabirds, turtles, and fish. But all of this plastic doesn’t have to enter the ocean to do damage. It is overwhelming communities, impacting human health, and fueling the climate crisis.

As with our first ranking in 2019, all of the supermarkets we assessed received failing scores. Following initial progress after our 2019 ranking, U.S. grocery retailers largely deprioritized sustainability, including plastic pollution, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.

In stark contrast to the U.S., even during the pandemic, some supermarkets worldwide, like South Korean Lotte Mart and ALDI UK & Ireland, committed to reducing single-use plastics 50% by 2025. Fortunately, several U.S. retailers, including top-ranked Giant Eagle, are beginning to restart reduction initiatives that were paused when the pandemic spread to the U.S.

While retail operations and the world have changed amid a pandemic, we cannot lose sight of the myriad crises facing our society and planet that continue to worsen every day, including plastic pollution and runaway climate change.

We must continue to demand bold action from retailers on single-use plastics.

Retailers must immediately remove unnecessary throwaway packaging, commit to eliminate single-use plastics, and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. Simply swapping single-use plastics for another throwaway material doesn’t cut it and will continue to pollute our communities and planet. Retailers need to reinstate — or if they haven’t yet, announce — bans on plastic checkout bags and permit reusable bags in stores. Recycling has failed to curb the increasing flood of plastic pollution. Retailers must prioritize reduction and reuse over recycling, and eliminate unrecyclable plastics (all plastics with Resin Identification Codes #3–#7).

Retailers also need to correct misleading labels claiming that packaging is recyclable when it is far more likely to end up in a landfill or incinerator. Greenpeace sued Walmart in December, 2020, alleging that the retailer has illegally and incorrectly advertised its own brand throwaway plastic products and packaging as recyclable. While the suit focuses on Walmart, the problem is much more expansive, with many other retailers also choosing to put more effort into greenwashing than reducing their plastic footprint.

And lastly, it’s time for retailers to show real leadership by embracing federal legislation like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and supporting a strong, ambitious global plastics treaty.

You deserve to know if supermarkets are reducing their use of wasteful single-use plastics and creating reuse and refill options for shoppers like you, or if they’re content with polluting the planet. It’s time to demand action. Together, with your calls for change, supermarkets will #breakfreefromplastic.

How Supermarkets Ranked on Plastics

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Legend

0 - 39.9

40 - 69.9

70 - 100

  1. #1

    Giant Eagle

    Overall Score

    34.88/100

    Policy: 34.78

    Reduction: 35.04

    Initiatives: 43.08

    Transparency: 25.81

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    Giant Eagle • Giant Eagle Express • Market District • Market District Express

    Score Breakdown

    Giant Eagle’s meteoric rise from 16th place in the 2019 ranking to 1st this year is a testament to the bold actions the company has taken since then. In December 2019, the retailer ambitiously committed to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2025. For Giant Eagle to succeed, it must move swiftly and engage its suppliers to ditch plastics and invest in reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Policy: Giant Eagle’s public commitment is to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2025, solidly placing it ahead of all other retailers for this category. The retailer is developing sustainable packaging supplier guidelines. Giant Eagle must prioritize eliminating packaging units, not switching from one single-use material to another; scaling up reuse, refill, and packaging-free alternative; and releasing a more detailed policy with time-bound benchmarks.

    Reduction: Giant Eagle kicked off its commitment by banning plastic checkout bags in a subset of its stores and offering paper options for grocery delivery and pickup, for a charge. Unfortunately, like too many retailers, Giant Eagle paused its checkout bag initiative and does not permit reusable bags, citing the pandemic. That should hopefully change this year. The retailer is also engaging its suppliers on alternative packaging options and is prioritizing phasing out unrecyclable plastics (e.g., with Resin Identification Codes #3–#7).

    Initiatives: Unlike all other retailers, Giant Eagle earned a passing score in this category, albeit barely. It is engaging its suppliers to achieve its 2025 goals, working across the grocery retail industry to develop solutions to reduce packaging, and engaging local elected officials on its efforts to ditch single-use plastic checkout bags. Giant Eagle must scale up reuse and refill options, demand action from large suppliers like Nestlé, and support bold initiatives like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and a global plastics treaty.

    Transparency: Giant Eagle scored better than several retailers in this category, but it didn’t finish in the top three. Like many retailers, Giant Eagle is evaluating its plastic packaging footprint. It should publicly share this information and provide annual updates on its progress toward its 2025 goals.

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  2. #2

    ALDI

    Overall Score

    30.61/100

    Policy: 29.35

    Reduction: 28.21

    Initiatives: 23.08

    Transparency: 37.10

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    ALDI

    Score Breakdown

    ALDI remains near the top of the ranking, dropping one spot this year. ALDI’s April 2019 goal of at least a 15% reduction of all store-exclusive product packaging by 2025 led the pack at the time. Then came Giant Eagle. ALDI must at minimum commit to a 50% reduction (which would match ALDI UK and ALDI Ireland); prioritize eliminating packaging units outright, as opposed to relying on lightweighting or material substitution; and be wary of failed strategies like recycling.

    Policy: ALDI’s 2025 goal is for 100% reusable, recyclable, compostable packaging and to reduce all store-exclusive product packaging by at least 15%. It should clarify what percentage of its packaging will be reusable, given ongoing concerns with the recyclability of most plastics and the inability for most municipalities to process compostable packaging.

    Reduction: ALDI has never offered ultra-lightweight plastic checkout bags; however, it continues to sell thicker plastic bags, which it claims can be used up to 125 times. ALDI would do better to ditch these completely. ALDI is prioritizing elimination of PVC and expanded polystyrene packaging, among other initiatives.

    Initiatives: ALDI is one of the few retailers that sells almost entirely own brand products in its stores, which should allow it to more quickly make packaging reform; however, ALDI appears to be squandering this unique opportunity. While ALDI is putting a lot of effort into stamping recyclability labels on its products, it should be eliminating that plastic packaging altogether, since most of it isn’t actually recyclable. ALDI’s reuse pilot is delayed amid the pandemic. Given that reusables can be used safely and are more important than ever, hopefully ALDI will relaunch the pilot swiftly in 2021.

    Transparency: ALDI is second only to Sprouts in this category. While ALDI provided some information to Greenpeace on its overall plastic footprint, the retailer must publicly share this information, along with its progress in reducing single-use plastics.

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  3. #3

    Sprouts Farmers Market

    Overall Score

    25.83/100

    Policy: 25.00

    Reduction: 23.08

    Initiatives: 21.54

    Transparency: 41.94

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    Sprouts Farmers Market

    Score Breakdown

    Sprouts climbed two spots this year, buoyed by its companywide engagement, transparency, and promise of forthcoming initiatives. As Sprouts develops its public-facing plastics policy, it must make it ambitious and time-bound (see Giant Eagle), prioritize the elimination of single-use plastics, and invest significantly in reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives

    Policy: Sprouts doesn’t yet have a public policy or commitment on single-use plastics. The retailer has internal standards, and is creating sustainable packaging guidelines, engaging suppliers, and developing reduction targets. 2021 is the time for Sprouts to release its policy and set a new industry standard.

    Reduction: Roughly half of Sprouts’ stores have already phased out single-use plastic checkout bags, mostly because its California stores are prohibited by law from offering these bags. But, like ALDI, Sprouts must ensure that none of its stores offers thicker plastic checkout bags that are purportedly “reusable.” The company must prioritize eliminating single-use plastic packaging altogether and scaling up reuse and refill.

    Initiatives: Sprouts has reuse and refill options, such as a bulk section that’s larger than those of many retailers; however, it has paused its BYO container program during the pandemic, so customers can only purchase prepackaged bulk foods. Sprouts needs to bring back reuse and move away from single-use entirely for its bulk foods, along with transitioning its single-use plastic packaging to reuse and refill for many other products. Sprouts is working with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and is an active member engaged in packaging with FMI (the food industry association).

    Transparency: Sprouts is the only retailer to receive a passing score in this category. While Sprouts provided some information to Greenpeace on its overall plastic footprint, the retailer must publicly share this information, along with its progress in reducing single-use plastics.

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  4. #4

    The Kroger Co.

    Overall Score

    24.06/100

    Policy: 25.00

    Reduction: 23.08

    Initiatives: 21.54

    Transparency: 29.03

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    Kroger • Ralphs • Dillons • Smith's • Roundy's • King Soopers • Fry's Food Stores • QFC • City Market • Owen's • Jay C Food Stores • Pay Less Super Markets • Baker's • Gerbes • Harris Teeter • Pick 'n Save • Ruler Foods • Metro Market • Mariano's • Food 4 Less • Foods Co • Fred Meyer

    Score Breakdown

    Kroger dropped two spots this year as Giant Eagle and Sprouts moved up. The retailer has a new goal of 100% recyclable, compostable, and/or reusable own brand packaging by 2030 — five years later than its peers that signed the EMF Global Commitment. Kroger is the only retailer with a commitment to ditch single-use plastic checkout bags by 2025. Given its behemoth size, Kroger has tremendous potential to make a difference for our planet if it commits to eliminate single-use plastics and scale up reuse.

    Policy: Kroger’s 2030 goal of 100% recyclable, compostable, and/or reusable own brand
    packaging is similar to that of several other retailers in that it still begs the question of just how much of the mix will be reusable packaging and whether the recyclable and compostable options actually get recycled and composted. The retailer has not revealed its plans, if any, for the throwaway plastics it sells from national brands like Nestlé.

    Reduction: Kroger is working toward its 2025 goal to eliminate single-use plastic checkout bags, and it is also part of the Beyond the Bag Initiative. Greenpeace’s advice: Switch to a low-tech solution like reusable tote bags, today. Kroger must prioritize eliminating packaging units, not swapping them for other throwaway materials. Kroger is proud of having reduced more than 10 million pounds of plastics (achieved via lightweighting, packaging redesign, and increasing recycled content). However, given that Kroger is a massive retailer, this reduction amounts to a modest change overall (especially when compared with a competitor a small fraction its size, Trader Joe’s, which reduced nearly 6 million pounds of plastic in 2019 alone).

    Initiatives: Kroger made headlines in 2019, announcing its partnership with Loop on reusable packaging. This gave the retailer a boost in the 2019 rankings, though two years later its pilot remains delayed. May 2021 be the year Kroger makes massive investments in reuse systems, from Loop to other initiatives.

    Transparency: Kroger is tracking its packaging footprint, though unlike its competitor Walmart, Kroger doesn’t share any of this information publicly. The most the public knows is that it distributes 6 billion plastic checkout bags annually. As Kroger takes on single-use plastics, it must disclose more information to the public.

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  5. #5

    Albertsons Companies

    Overall Score

    21.85/100

    Policy: 21.74

    Reduction: 22.22

    Initiatives: 20.00

    Transparency: 22.58

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    Albertsons • Albertsons Market • Amigos • Andronico’s Community Markets • Lucky • Market Street • Safeway • Safeway Community Markets • Vons • Jewel-Osco • Shaw's • ACME Markets • Tom Thumb • Randalls • United Express • United Supermarkets • Pavilions • Star Market • Carrs • Haggen

    Score Breakdown

    Albertsons dropped two spots this year. The retailer has a public commitment for its own brand packaging to be 100% recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable by 2025; however, it is unclear just how much Albertsons will invest in reuse and refill alternatives, rather than single-use packaging made from other materials.

    Policy: Albertsons’ policy is another “choose your own adventure” — what percentage of its packaging will be reusable by 2025 and what about the national brands in stores? Albertsons must commit to bold, time-bound policy to eliminate single-use plastic packaging, including plastic bags.

    Reduction: Albertsons plans to increase recycled content in some of its own brand products. The retailer is exploring how to reduce single-use plastic checkout bags, though it should just eliminate them. Albertsons must engage big brands, like Unilever, to phase out single-use plastics and switch to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Initiatives: Albertsons is part of the Ocean Plastic Leadership Network and has actively engaged on plastics via FMI (the food industry association). With a 2025 commitment similar to the EMF Global Commitment, it begs the question whether Albertsons will formally sign on. While the retailer has eliminated some single-use plastics in its foodservice operations, this appears to be limited and not across its nationwide operations. There is zero indication that Albertsons is prioritizing reuse and refill.

    Transparency: Albertsons is evaluating its packaging footprint, but remains unwilling to share this information publicly. Perhaps if it adopts the EMF Global Commitment it will join other large retailers like Walmart and begin sharing its plastic footprint with the public.

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  6. #6

    Costco

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    Did not respond

    Overall Score

    20.53/100

    Policy: 20.65

    Reduction: 20.51

    Initiatives: 20.00

    Transparency: 20.97

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    Costco

    Score Breakdown

    Costco moved up three spots this year as it continues to implement its public goals to reduce its packaging. The retailer details its efforts on its website and is clearly making strides; however, it lacks a comprehensive and bold time-bound policy that prioritizes the elimination of single-use plastics and scaling up of reuse and refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Policy: Costco has some time-bound initiatives like its 10-year initiative to reduce polystyrene, though its general framework for packaging reductions lacks bold, time-bound goals like Giant Eagle’s. When its competitors, from Walmart to Target, have time-bound — albeit weak — policies, it’s time for Costco to commit to an ambitious public policy with benchmarks.

    Reduction: In addition to polystyrene reduction, Costco is transitioning all of its food court packaging to compostable alternatives. Unfortunately, similar to recyclable plastics, just because a material is compostable doesn’t mean it will be composted. Costco has enormous purchasing power and needs to ditch single-use packaging immediately.

    Initiatives: While Costco is labeling products with recyclability information, it needs to exercise caution, as most plastics in the U.S. aren’t actually recyclable. Rather, it should consider initiatives like the Ocean Plastic Leadership Network, publicly supporting the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and a global plastics treaty, and massively scaling up its implementation of reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: Costco shares a tremendous amount of information about its packaging initiatives online and most recently in its Costco Connection newsletter; however, it communicates nothing about its plastic footprint. Greenpeace continues to have major concerns about Costco sending trash to “waste-to-energy” facilities. There’s no place for burning plastics or any waste generated from a retail location. This toxic activity must stop.

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  7. #7

    Walmart

    Overall Score

    18.10/100

    Policy: 21.74

    Reduction: 17.09

    Initiatives: 15.38

    Transparency: 19.35

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    Walmart • Walmart Supercenter • Neighborhood Market • Sam's Club

    Score Breakdown

    Walmart dropped a spot this year, and its score largely remained unchanged. While this retailer should be recognized for publicly reporting part of its plastics footprint, overall, it is failing big time. Instead of getting serious about reducing its truly massive contribution to the plastic pollution and climate crises, the world’s largest retailer has opted to mislead its customers with labels stating that plastic items are recyclable when they are destined to be dumped or burned. In December 2020, Greenpeace sued Walmart for using deceptive recyclability labels on its plastic products and packaging.

    Policy: Walmart has a public goal of 100% recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable own brand packaging by 2025 and various other initiatives, such as increasing recycled content; however, like other retailers it doesn’t specify how much of its packaging will be reusable and if the recyclable and compostable options actually get recycled and composted . For the world’s largest retailer, this goal is lacking on many fronts. Walmart should join Giant Eagle in committing to eliminate single-use plastics altogether.

    Reduction: Walmart is prioritizing elimination of PVC and polystyrene packaging by 2025. Walmart plans to take another four years to gradually increase its post-consumer recycled content to 20% for its own brand. Unlike Kroger, Walmart hasn’t committed to eliminate single-use plastic checkout bags.

    Initiatives: Walmart’s packaging playbook and reporting guidelines offer some resources for its suppliers and the public. However, the retailer is misguided in focusing on recyclability, rather than eliminating single-use plastics altogether and ramping up reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. Walmart needs to leverage its global purchasing power to ditch plastics and demand national brands like Nestlé do the same.

    Transparency: To its credit, Walmart is the only retailer in this ranking sharing some of its plastic footprint publicly via the EMF Global Commitment; however, it isn’t a complete assessment of its footprint. Several follow-up questions asked during Greenpeace’s survey process remain unanswered, which has impacted Walmart’s score in this ranking.

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  8. #8

    Ahold Delhaize

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    Did not respond

    Overall Score

    16.78/100

    Policy: 18.48

    Reduction: 16.24

    Initiatives: 16.92

    Transparency: 16.13

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    Stop & Shop • Giant • Giant Food • Food Lion • Hannaford

    Score Breakdown

    Ahold Delhaize moved up from 13th place in 2019; however, it continues to underperform due to a lack of information provided publicly and for refusing to participate in the survey process. This retailer seems to have good intentions, but until it shares more, the world will never know.

    Policy: Another EMF Global Commitment signatory means another commitment for 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable own brand plastic packaging by 2025. Will Ahold Delhaize make a majority of its packaging reusable, or will it rely on false solutions like other throwaway packaging? This retailer must join Giant Eagle and commit to eliminate single-use plastics and go further with a specific, time-bound reuse and refill goal.

    Reduction: Aside from purportedly avoiding more than 11.4 million single-use checkout bags (based on the number of reusable bags its Food Lion banner has sold since 2013), Ahold Delhaize has nothing else significant to offer on reduction, especially since customers can still choose single-use plastic bags at the checkout. Ahold Delhaize has largely focused on recycling, but as recycling markets have collapsed and essentially RICs #1 and #2 are the only plastics accepted in the U.S., Ahold Delhaize needs to commit to eliminating single-use plastic packaging altogether.

    Initiatives: Ahold Delhaize works on packaging issues with FMI (the food industry association) and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, though it remains to be seen if the retailer will invest in and massively scale up reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. This is the most important work it can and should be doing.

    Transparency: Ahold Delhaize should be providing public updates in line with its EMF Global Commitment, rather than keeping that information private. Forget sharing recycling figures. Let’s hear from Ahold Delhaize about its plastic footprint so the public can track its progress and hold it accountable for reducing its overall plastic use.

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  9. #9

    Wegmans

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    Overall Score

    15.45/100

    Policy: 17.39

    Reduction: 14.53

    Initiatives: 16.92

    Transparency: 14.52

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    Wegmans

    Score Breakdown

    Wegmans remains a disappointment. As a family-owned company, it has a legacy to protect. Right now it is opting for greenwashing tactics such as lightweighting and material substitution, rather than eliminating single-use plastics and scaling up reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. Perhaps Wegmans will take some inspiration from Giant Eagle and raise the ambition of its packaging goals.

    Policy: Rather than commit to eliminate single-use plastics, Wegmans aims to reduce its plastic packaging by 10 million pounds by 2024. Before celebrating, know that Wegmans will attain this goal “to a large extent” through material substitution. Trader Joe’s eliminated nearly 6 million pounds of plastic in 2019, alone. Time for Wegmans to think bigger.

    Reduction: Wegmans wants to avoid fossil fuel-based plastics, and claims to have avoided more than 6 million pounds of them since 2016. But its focus on bioplastics and recycled content in its packaging is woefully insufficient, given the scale of the plastic pollution crisis. Wegmans must focus on eliminating single-use plastic packaging units from its stores, not just replacing one throwaway item with another.

    Initiatives: Wegmans created a savvy media moment by announcing it would remove single-use plastic checkout bags from its New York State stores, just before the state plastic bag ban went into effect. The retailer should ban all plastic bags at the checkout across all of its stores. Wegmans needs to set an ambitious, time-bound public goal prioritizing reduction, reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: Wegmans’ various claims about its plastic reduction efforts can’t be verified, since it doesn’t provide any information on its overall plastic footprint.

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  10. #10

    Whole Foods Market

    Overall Score

    15.23/100

    Policy: 19.57

    Reduction: 14.53

    Initiatives: 12.31

    Transparency: 14.52

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    Whole Foods Market

    Score Breakdown

    Whole Foods improved slightly this year, largely due to internal initiatives. Despite a public campaign by Environment America and a failing score in an As You Sow ranking, Whole Foods has yet to release a bold and comprehensive time-bound policy to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Policy: Whole Foods doesn’t have a comprehensive public policy or commitments to reduce its plastic footprint.

    Reduction: Whole Foods claims several firsts among large, nationwide U.S. retailers, including the first to ban single-use plastic checkout bags and plastic straws. It also banned microbeads before a national law took effect. As Giant Eagle, ALDI, and Sprouts take the lead, what will Whole Foods do to demonstrate it is the sustainability leader it wants to be?

    Initiatives: Whole Foods has historically offered some food in bulk, though it doesn’t have extensive reuse and refill operations for its stores or grocery delivery. The retailer works with some groups on recycling, though it’s unclear if it has more extensive engagement across retail. Whole Foods must engage its own brand and national brand suppliers, like Danone, to reduce its single-use plastic footprint and switch to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: Whole Foods made headlines for its 2008 single-use plastic checkout bag ban, and it used to blog about its Responsible Packaging Task Force in 2011. However, aside from its recent straws announcement, Whole Foods has largely been quiet on its website and doesn’t disclose information on its overall plastic footprint. When Walmart is more transparent than Whole Foods on plastics, that should give customers pause.

    Note: Greenpeace evaluated Whole Foods Market’s operations. Whole Foods must leverage its brand and all plastic reduction initiatives to ensure that its parent company Amazon.com complies with any changes overlapping with Whole Foods’ operations. Additionally, Whole Foods must demand Amazon eliminate single-use packaging. The online retail has a massive role to play and so far is failing miserably.

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  11. #11

    Southeastern Grocers

    Overall Score

    14.79/100

    Policy: 13.04

    Reduction: 12.82

    Initiatives: 12.31

    Transparency: 27.42

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    BI-LO • Harveys Supermarket • Winn-Dixie • Fresco y Más

    Score Breakdown

    Southeastern Grocers increased its score and moved up three spots this year largely due to greater transparency with Greenpeace, a greater companywide focus on plastics, and work underway to eliminate various single-use plastics. This progress provides a case for optimism, despite its current spot in the rankings.

    Policy: Southeastern Grocers has internal initiatives, though lacks a time-bound public commitment or policy to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Reduction: The retailer has ongoing initiatives to reduce unrecyclable plastics like expanded polystyrene and straws and is looking to address single-use plastic bags. These are baby steps. Southeastern Grocers needs a bold public policy to eliminate all single-use plastics in order to tackle the scale of the pollution crisis.

    Initiatives: Southeastern Grocers has historically had limited engagement with its suppliers to shift away from single-use packaging, though this should change as it develops and implements its plans. The retailer does not appear to be involved in any initiatives at the industry or policy level. Southeastern Grocers has an opportunity to engage in multistakeholder initiatives such as those led by the Ocean Plastic Leadership Network and FMI (the food industry association). It should back the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and a global plastics treaty, and engage its own brand and national brand suppliers, like Nestlé, to phase out single-use plastics and switch to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: Southeastern Grocers scored better than most retailers in this category. While it shared some information with Greenpeace on its overall plastic footprint, it must also publicly share this information and progress updates on its efforts to eliminate single-use plastics.

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  12. #12

    Target

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    Overall Score

    14.35/100

    Policy: 18.48

    Reduction: 13.68

    Initiatives: 12.31

    Transparency: 12.90

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    Target

    Score Breakdown

    Target’s score didn’t drop by much, but as other retailers improved, it fell from 8th place in 2019. Amid petitions and public campaigns to ditch single-use plastics, Target is doing exactly the opposite of listening to its guests. The retailer keeps churning out polluting plastic packaging and relying on false solutions that reek of greenwashing. Try again, Target.

    Policy: As a signatory of the EMF Global Commitment, Target has pledged a series of initiatives, including reduction, recyclability, and reporting on its progress. But the retailer falls way behind the top-ranked Giant Eagle because Target’s plan fails to comprehensively eliminate single-use plastics.

    Reduction: Target plans to eliminate expanded polystyrene from its own brand packaging by 2022 and is purportedly working on other plastics like PVC. But will it replace them with other throwaway materials? The retailer has goals to increase recycled content, but doesn’t seem to recognize that most plastics aren’t recyclable in the U.S. Unlike Kroger, Target has not committed to eliminate its plastic checkout bags.

    Initiatives: Target participates in the misguided Beyond the Bag initiative, when it should just ban the single-use plastic bag. Whole Foods ditched plastic checkout bags in 2008, so Target’s excuses hold no water. Target lost points for its participation in the American Chemistry Council-backed initiative “Materials Recovery for the Future.” There’s no way to recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis: Target must ditch plastics and massively invest in reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. Pilots alone won’t cut it.

    Transparency: While Target should provide public updates in line with its EMF Global Commitment, the retailer has sneakily opted to only report its plastic footprint directly to EMF. Yet another Target fail. Even Walmart shares its plastic footprint publicly.

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  13. #13

    Trader Joe’s

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    Overall Score

    14.32/100

    Policy: 17.39

    Reduction: 13.68

    Initiatives: 6.15

    Transparency: 16.13

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    Trader Joe’s

    Score Breakdown

    Trader Joe’s joined Hy-Vee in dropping the most of any retailer following the 2019 ranking: nine spots. While Trader Joe’s eliminated nearly 6 million pounds of plastics in 2019 and more than 2 million pounds in 2020, unfortunately it appears to be relying heavily on material substitution  instead of absolute reduction of plastic packaging units. Like ALDI, Trader Joe’s sells nearly all own brand items, and is squandering a unique opportunity to engage with its suppliers over packaging reductions. And, despite its initiatives, Trader Joe’s lack of transparency continues to impact its score in this ranking.

    Policy: While Trader Joe’s is working to reduce and remove plastic packaging, the retailer must create a public-facing policy that includes time-bound absolute reduction targets to eliminate single-use plastics and achieve this via reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. It’s shocking that the retailer doesn’t already have such a policy.

    Reduction: In 2019, Trader Joe’s eliminated nearly 6 million pounds of plastic by removing packaging and material substitution (e.g., compostable plastic ). However, it is unclear how much was eliminated versus replaced with other plastic packaging, and Trader Joe’s appears to consider replacing virgin plastic with recycled plastic toward its 6-million pound reduction figure. Trader Joe’s removed more than 2 million pounds of plastic in 2020. Unfortunately, switching from one single-use material to another won’t solve the pollution crisis. Most of the U.S. is unable to process compostables , so they end up in landfills, incinerators, or our environment. Absolute reduction is the true path forward: Trader Joe’s must lead.

    Initiatives: Trader Joe’s is working with its own brand suppliers to avoid certain types of plastics, but this is just scratching the surface on what it could be doing. The retailer needs to invest in and massively scale up reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. Years ago, the retailer had bulk sections. It’s time to reinvest in bulk and encourage customers to bring their own reusable containers. Reusables continue to be safe and doable.

    Transparency: Trader Joe’s did a decent job reporting on its 2019 progress, but offered a more limited 2020 report. As noted before, it needs to be more specific with how much packaging is being eliminated versus how much is merely being replaced with other throwaway material. The retailer’s customers expect to know how it’s doing, so Trader Joe’s should be up front about its plastic footprint.

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  14. #14

    Meijer

    Overall Score

    13.69/100

    Policy: 13.04

    Reduction: 12.82

    Initiatives: 18.46

    Transparency: 12.90

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    Meijer • Bridge Street Market • Capital City Market

    Score Breakdown

    Meijer jumped four spots this year, buoyed by greater transparency and various initiatives. Things are looking up for this Midwest retailer, though it desperately needs a comprehensive, time-bound public policy prioritizing absolute reduction targets of single-use plastics and major investments in reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Policy: Meijer has a goal of 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable own brand packaging by 2025. It’s encouraging to now see a goal, as Meijer didn’t indicate having one in the last ranking; however, as with Walmart, Target, Kroger, Ahold Delhaize, and Albertsons Companies, the public is left to wonder what this actually means. Will 1% of Meijer’s packaging become reusable and the rest be throwaway? Meijer has an opportunity to join Giant Eagle by committing to eliminate single-use plastics altogether.

    Reduction: Meijer has some basic recycling initiatives, is engaging its suppliers further up the supply chain (e.g., seafood suppliers eliminating expanded polystyrene), and is working to meet its 2025 goals. The retailer needs to share more specifics with the public. Meijer was the strongest retailer in terms of having sustainable packaging guidelines and a plan to monitor and require compliance from its suppliers.

    Initiatives: Meijer is part of the Beyond the Bag initiative. Let’s hope the retailer moves swiftly to eliminate all plastic bags throughout its stores. The retailer has a unique feature on its loyalty app to remind customers to bring their reusable bags inside with them when they approach a Meijer store. The retailer is putting recyclability labels on its products, though with the collapse of U.S. recycling markets fueled in part by a glut of natural gas, most plastics will continue to end up in landfills, incinerators, and our environment. Time to ditch plastics. Period.

    Transparency: There’s no indication of Meijer’s plastic footprint and very little information besides its recycling initiatives on its website. With its updated policy and work companywide to address the plastic pollution crisis, it’s high time for Meijer to ramp up its online and in-store communications on reduction efforts.

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  15. #15

    Publix

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    Overall Score

    12.36/100

    Policy: 11.96

    Reduction: 13.68

    Initiatives: 13.85

    Transparency: 6.45

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    Stores & Banners

    Publix • Publix Sabor • GreenWise Market

    Score Breakdown

    Publix’s score improved slightly but it is still near the bottom of the barrel. The Florida-based retailer continues to be an example of greenwashing, shrouded behind a new and splashy sustainability focus on its website and a feel-good brand that seems content on fueling the climate and plastic pollution crisis with excessive plastic packaging and failed leadership. So much for Publix’s commitment to being “intolerant of waste.”

    Policy: Fail: Publix doesn’t have a time-bound, public policy to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Reduction: Queue the slow clap. Some of Publix’s groundbreaking efforts include swapping plastic stirrers for wooden ones in its company break rooms, recycling buckets used by its bakeries, and removing the plastic sleeves that were used to ship mops. While there are more examples, they are minimal at best.

    Initiatives: Publix supports pro-plastics lobby groups (like the Florida Retail Federation) that have threatened legal action against communities fighting to protect themselves from the scourge of single-use plastics. This seems in contrast to its value to be “Involved as responsible citizens in our communities.” Rather than blocking action on plastic, Publix should drop the Florida Retail Federation and publicly support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. That would show actual leadership that upholds Publix’s purported values espousing responsibility.

    Transparency: Yet again, no information is available on Publix’s overall plastic footprint, nor any kind of commitments that feature a transparency or accountability component.

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  16. #16

    Hy-Vee

    Overall Score

    11.48/100

    Policy: 11.96

    Reduction: 10.26

    Initiatives: 16.92

    Transparency: 9.68

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    Stores & Banners

    Hy-Vee • Hy-Vee Drugstore • Fast & Fresh • Hy-Vee Fast & Fresh Express • Mainstreet • HealthMarket • DollarFresh

    Score Breakdown

    Hy-Vee made a name for itself in seafood sustainability, but surprisingly, given that one truckload worth of plastic enters our oceans every minute, this retailer has failed to rise to the challenge of eliminating single-use plastics. Hy-Vee joins Trader Joe’s by dropping a whopping nine spots this year.

    Policy: Hy-Vee has no public policy nor commitments to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives. While it has some internal initiatives, including encouraging its suppliers to take action on single-use plastics, the details remain unclear.

    Reduction: Hy-Vee is replacing single-use plastic items with compostable alternatives in its cafés, delis, bulk foods section, and convenience stores. Unfortunately, swapping one throwaway material for another will continue to mean more single-use packaging in landfills, incinerators, and our environment.

    Initiatives: Hy-Vee is part of the Beyond the Bag initiative, though hopefully the retailer will commit to eliminating all plastic bags in its stores. Upon learning more about the dangerous Hefty EnergyBag Program, Hy-Vee should be commended for discontinuing its participation in this program. The retailer needs to supercharge its efforts by scaling up reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: Hy-Vee has not committed to sharing its overall plastic footprint. As retailers like Walmart have, it’s time for Hy-Vee to join the pack. Only then will its customers know if Hy-Vee is taking meaningful action to eliminate its single-use plastic packaging.

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  17. #17

    The Save Mart Companies

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    Overall Score

    7.06/100

    Policy: 9.78

    Reduction: 6.84

    Initiatives: 9.23

    Transparency: 1.61

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    Stores & Banners

    Save Mart • S-Mart Foods • Lucky • Lucky California • FoodMaxx • MaxxValue Foods

    Score Breakdown

    Save Mart is struggling. The retailer dropped five spots to finish in the bottom quarter of this ranking. Save Mart appears to have initiatives, and disclosed several of them to Greenpeace for our 2019 ranking. But then the retailer went dark. Save Mart’s lack of transparency is a problem and leaves questions about what it is doing to mitigate the pollution from its plastic packaging.

    Policy: Save Mart doesn’t have a comprehensive public policy to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Reduction: Save Mart has some initiatives (e.g., bulk food pilots, eliminating polystyrene in some stores), but it lacks a comprehensive strategy to eliminate single-use plastics. Save Mart’s initiatives largely focus on recycling or switching from single-use plastics to other throwaway materials. And given the retailer’s poor transparency, the status of its reduction efforts remains unclear.

    Initiatives: With little explanation, Save Mart actually thanked the governor of California for temporarily lifting its plastic bag ban. Save Mart was on notice about the plastic industry’s exploitation of COVID-19 to promote single-use plastics (see Greenpeace’s research brief, emailed to the retailer). Any retailer delaying or rolling back reusable systems and citing the pandemic should consult this health statement and Reusables Are Doable.

    Transparency: Save Mart needs to publicly disclose its plastic footprint and share more information publicly regarding its efforts to eliminate single-use plastics. The retailer’s customers and decision makers expect greater transparency and communications about its corporate social responsibility.

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  18. #18

    Wakefern

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    Overall Score

    4.19/100

    Policy: 5.43

    Reduction: 2.56

    Initiatives: 4.62

    Transparency: 8.06

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    Stores & Banners

    ShopRite • Price Rite Marketplace • The Fresh Grocer • Dearborn Market

    Score Breakdown

    Wakefern moved up one spot this year to break the 4% threshold. Sadly, Wakefern is yet another large retailer that appears to be doing next to nothing to address its role in the plastic pollution crisis. Recycling and recyclability labels just won’t cut it.

    Policy: Wakefern doesn’t have a comprehensive, time-bound public policy or commitments to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Reduction: Wakefern has nothing significant to note regarding its efforts to eliminate single-use plastics. The retailer does, however, have a feel-good video on sustainability to give the impression that it is doing its part.

    Initiatives: Wakefern is working with How2Recycle to put recyclability information on plastic packaging; however, just because something is called recyclable doesn’t mean it will be. Wakefern should consult Circular Claims Fall Flat, which Greenpeace emailed to the retailer in February 2020. Recycling won’t solve the plastic pollution crisis. Wakefern must eliminate single-use plastics and embrace reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: Practically no useful public information is available on Wakefern’s policies, initiatives, or plastic footprint.

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  19. #19

    WinCo Foods

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    Did not respond

    Overall Score

    2.65/100

    Policy: 4.35

    Reduction: 1.71

    Initiatives: 3.08

    Transparency: 3.23

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    Stores & Banners

    WinCo Foods • Waremart by WinCo

    Score Breakdown

    WinCo dropped two spots and is second to last in this ranking. In one of the very few things WinCo posts online about sustainability, it claims, “The future looks greener at WinCo Foods.” We sure don’t see it.

    Policy: WinCo lacks a comprehensive, time-bound public policy or commitments to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Reduction: WinCo has zero noteworthy plastic reduction efforts.

    Initiatives: WinCo continues to miss a massive opportunity on reuse and refill by prohibiting customers from using their own containers for its bulk section. WinCo should learn from Sprouts on permitting customers to bring their own containers, and should read the following documents, emailed to it in 2020: The Making of An Echo Chamber, Circular Claims Fall Flat, the health statement on the safety of reuse, and Reusables Are Doable. WinCo must immediately develop and launch a comprehensive plan to eliminate single-use plastics and scale up reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Transparency: WinCo isn’t even remotely transparent about its overall plastic footprint, and has yet to publicly demonstrate that it’s even aware that plastics are a problem. Its website and public communications are severely lacking.

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  20. #20

    H-E-B

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    Did not respond

    Overall Score

    1.55/100

    Policy: 2.17

    Reduction: 0.85

    Initiatives: 1.54

    Transparency: 3.23

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    Stores & Banners

    H-E-B • H-E-B Plus! • Mi Tienda • Joe V's Smart Shop • Central Market

    Score Breakdown

    Congrats, H-E-B: In this second ranking, you’re yet again the worst-ranked retailer for failing to take bold action to eliminate single-use plastics. H-E-B is similar to Publix in many ways: private company, loyal customer base, and highly adept at greenwashing and failing customers, communities, and our planet.

    Policy: H-E-B doesn’t have a comprehensive, time-bound public policy or commitments to eliminate single-use plastics and transition to reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives.

    Reduction: H-E-B talks about recycling and reusable bags, but as many of its peers at least attempt to set time-bound goals prioritizing reductions, H-E-B has remained silent. It should consult the February 2020 email from Greenpeace and read Circular Claims Fall Flat, which documents the failures of plastics recycling in the U.S.

    Initiatives: Greenpeace couldn’t find any innovative efforts undertaken or planned by H-E-B.

    Transparency: Practically no useful public information is available on H-E-B’s policies, initiatives, or plastic footprint. The retailer has an almost singular focus on recycling, despite this being an ineffective strategy to tackle the plastic pollution crisis.

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Show Glossary

Glossary

  1. Absolute reduction:

    Absolute reduction targets reduce the total number of single-use plastic packaging units (see definition below) and thereby reduce a retailer’s overall plastic footprint. Greenpeace urges retailers to set absolute reduction targets to begin reducing and ultimately end their reliance on single-use plastics. Absolute reduction is more effective than relative reduction (see definition below).

    Bioplastics:

    May refer to either “bio-based” (partly or largely derived from bio-based feedstocks like corn) or “biodegradable” plastics (if they meet specific industrial standards). A bioplastic could be both bio-based and biodegradable. While often promoted as sustainable alternatives to fossil-based plastics, bioplastics can pollute as much as their fossil-based equivalents do. The heat and humidity conditions required for specific microorganisms to biodegrade these materials are rarely, if ever, met in the natural environment — whether at land or at sea. For more, see Throwing Away the Future.

    Compostable plastic:

    Packaging that biodegrades within the conditions and timeframe of the composting process. There is no consistently used global standard for compostability, and industrial facilities for handling the materials are not widely available and accessible to customers. Bioplastics are a type of compostable packaging. It is important to note that industrial composting and curbside pickup services are not available nationwide. For more, see Throwing Away the Future.

    EMF Global Commitment:

    The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment includes 2025 targets for signatories to help curb plastic pollution at its source. As of this writing, U.S. retail signatories include Walmart, Target, and Ahold Delhaize.

    FMI (The Food Industry Association):

    A trade association for food retailers, producers, food marketing, and wholesalers. 

    Hefty EnergyBag Program:

    A collaboration among Dow Chemical, Keep America Beautiful, Reynolds Consumer Products, and waste management operators in select U.S. cities. Well-intentioned customers who receive or purchase these bags place nonrecyclable plastics into the Hefty EnergyBag. These plastics are then incinerated or sent to pyrolysis plants, which convert plastics into a fossil fuel that is then burned. Burning plastic is known to release carcinogenic pollutants, which lead to a wide array of debilitating human health impacts.

    Lightweighting:

    A design process used to reduce the overall amount of plastics required (by weight) to produce packaging, though it does not reduce the number of packaging units (see relative reduction). Rather than lightweighting, Greenpeace recommends a complete phase-out of single-use plastic packaging, and that retailers focus on reducing the total number of single-use plastic units (see absolute reduction above).

    Material substitution:

    Changing the kind of material (e.g., from plastic to paper, from fossil-based plastics to bioplastics) that is used to create packaging. Often retailers opt to switch from single-use plastics to other single-use materials, which usually shifts ecological harms from one area to another. Greenpeace urges retailers to invest in
    reuse, refill, and package-free alternatives instead of simply replacing one throwaway material with another. For more, see Throwing Away the Future.

    Own brand:

    A retailer’s store brand (also called private label) products. Because retailers develop these products with suppliers, they can often improve the sustainability of these products more quickly than national brands.

  2. Packaging unit:

    A single packaging container in which a standard quantity of product will fit (e.g., a single bottle of milk or water, a single ready-to-eat meal tray). For example, a 24-pack of bottled water would count as 24 units.

    Plastic footprint:

    The total amount of plastic, by units and weight, used or sold throughout a company’s operations.

    Polystyrene:

    A resin that has many applications, commonly as an expanded foam, such as that found in take-out food containers. What is commonly called Styrofoam is actually a trademarked product frequently used in building materials. Polystyrene contains the chemical, styrene, which can migrate from the food packaging into food, as some studies have found. Depending on the level of exposure, styrene can irritate human organs and skin, and can cause neurological disorders.

    Recycling:

    Recycled or recyclable throwaway plastics are still single-use. Single-use plastics are always going to be throwaway plastics, regardless of whether a company is able to recycle a percentage of them. More than 90% of the plastic waste ever produced has not been recycled, and a large portion of that packaging ends up polluting our environment. Recycling has failed to curb the increasing flood of plastic pollution. Retailers must prioritize reduction and reuse over recycling, and eliminate unrecyclable plastics (all plastics with Resin Identification Codes #3–#7). Companies can try to spin their recycling efforts as “making a difference” for our oceans and waterways, but they are actually just dodging true accountability for the crisis they helped to create. Real leadership means reducing the throwaway plastics they produce and sell.

    Relative reduction:

    Reducing the amount of plastic used for packaging units via lightweighting or material substitution. While this indeed reduces a retailer’s plastic footprint, it fails to reduce the total number of packaging units (see absolute reduction). Greenpeace urges retailers to move beyond these unambitious strategies and to set time-bound absolute reduction targets that significantly reduce and ultimately end their reliance on single-use plastics.

    Retailers:

    Also known as grocery stores or supermarkets. This ranking evaluates U.S. grocery retailers on their efforts to reduce single-use plastics.

    Reuse and refill systems:

    Retailers should prioritize removing packaging altogether. When that is not possible, transition to reusable packaging — either customer provided or via retailer take-back schemes, or coupled with in-store or at-home refill techniques — that can drastically reduce single-use plastics. Refill strategies can be broken up into four categories: refill at home, refill in store, return from home, and return in store. Despite plastic industry claims, reusables can be used safely used during the pandemic. For further reading, see Reusables Are Doable.

    Single-use plastic:

    Any plastic that is intended for one-time use — such as plastic bags, sachets, bottles, and food, drink, and nonfood packaging, designed to be used once and then disposed of. This includes recyclable packaging.

    Stores and banners:

    Some larger grocery retailers own and operate many different supermarket chains, which are also known as banners. For example, the retailer Ahold Delhaize (a parent company) owns and operates several banners, including Stop & Shop, Giant, Martin’s, Food Lion, and Hannaford.

    Waste-to-energy:

    This is often greenwashing for incineration, which, according to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, can “involve processes such as combustion, pyrolysis, gasification, or plasma arc. But they all have the same claim — “burning waste will make our waste problems disappear.”

Absolute reduction targets reduce the total number of single-use plastic packaging units (see definition below) and thereby reduce a retailer’s overall plastic footprint. Greenpeace urges retailers to set absolute reduction targets to begin reducing and ultimately end their reliance on single-use plastics. Absolute reduction is more effective than relative reduction (see definition below).

How We Ranked Supermarkets

Find out what we used to evaluate supermarkets on single-use plastics.

Greenpeace obtained information from supermarkets through a standardized 21-question survey, email and phone conversations, and publicly available information. We scored supermarkets based on their performance in four categories:

  • Policy

    Does the supermarket have a comprehensive public policy to mitigate its plastic footprint and transition away from single-use plastics to more sustainable product delivery systems? Does it clearly define and enforce rigorous standards with its suppliers to remove problematic packaging and reduce its plastic footprint?

  • Reduction

    Does the supermarket have a time-bound commitment to reduce — and ultimately phase out — single-use plastics? Is it working to reduce the number of items packaged in plastic? Is it moving beyond initial steps like banning plastic bags or straws and working toward significant reductions in its plastic footprint?

  • Initiatives

    How is the supermarket engaging multiple stakeholders, including its suppliers, to implement alternatives to single-use plastics? Is it shifting toward reuse, refill, and package-free delivery systems? Is it working to transform its operations or engaging in greenwashing that prevents meaningful progress?

  • Transparency

    How does the supermarket communicate to its customers and the public its policies and information about its single-use plastic footprint? Beyond reporting general updates, does the supermarket publicly report its overall plastic footprint and its actions to shift from single-use plastics?

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Did not respond

Indicates the ten retailers that declined to participate in the survey process.

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Plastic pollution is destroying our oceans and communities. It's harming turtles, whales, fish, and every part of the ocean food chain. Supermarkets use a lot of plastic to package goods that we buy every day. Ask major supermarkets to lead by eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging.

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