The Northwest grocery store chain New Seasons Market announced it will eliminate the sale of single use bottles of water in all of its stores by Earth Day, to continue its work to reduce plastic waste in local communities.

Starting on April 22, New Seasons Market will eliminate the sale of single use bottles of water from all 19 of its stores across Oregon, Washington and Northern California. The grocery store will discontinue the sale of single-use water bottles made of plastic, fiber, aluminum, and glass. It will also discontinue the sale of still water of one liter or less.

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These changes will remove almost 200,000 single use plastic, aluminum, and glass bottles from Oregon’s waste stream annually, the company said.

Single use plastic items such as grocery and take-out bags, water bottles, straws and wrappers have been found to be a toxic pollutant threat to the environment and human health. Plastic and microplastics have been found everywhere on the planet, from near the top of Mount Everest to the deepest parts in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trenches. Recycling has proven not to be an effective solution, as the industrial processes needed for single use plastic can create even more pollution.

About 10 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year— and it can take thousands of years for most plastics to decompose.

Efforts to reduce single use plastic waste worldwide have been picking up speed as more major cities are enacting plastic item bans. On the West Coast, major cities like San Francisco and Seattle were among the first in the nation to enact plastic bag bans and a fee for paper bags. In Portland, that ban came in 2011.

Now, New Seasons Market Senior Sustainability Manager Athena Petty said the store wants to take it a step further as part of its larger commitment to continue to reduce waste in the waste streams of local communities and to promote more sustainable options for customers.

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“We’re feeling like this is one big way that we can kind of spread the word and get people really thinking about reuse and how important it is to reduce single use waste, but it’s certainly not the whole thing,” Petty said. “We have other work happening as well.”

New Seasons declined to say how much revenue they receive from the sale of single use water bottles or what it will cost to implement the changes.

Petty said the grocery store originally had plans to roll this initiative out last April but as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading in communities and not much was known about how it was spreading, company officials decided to hold off until they knew more about the virus.

“The last 18 months we’ve really taken kind of a more strategic look at ways that we can reduce waste both operationally at our stores and then help our customers do the same through our various programs and initiatives,” Petty said.

The store will continue to sell larger sizes of water, as well as single serving bottles of sparkling and flavored water not available from the tap. They will also keep one refillable single serve bottle of still water on the shelves that is meant to be reused.

Petty said the store was intentional in choosing to eliminate all single use water bottle items and not just focus on plastic. She said after looking into the full life cycle of all single use water bottles and their environmental impacts, plastic wasn’t the only culprit in the increase of pollution.

“Plastic often isn’t even sort of the worst performer. So, things like glass that are intended to be used only one time have a really high carbon footprint for instance because of how heavy they are and how difficult they are to transport,” she said.

A recent study by the global environmental advocate group Greenpeace, ranked 20 major U.S. grocery store retailers on their efforts to reduce their plastic waste. All 20 retailers received a failing score, according to the metrics used by the organization. The Kroger Company ranked fourth on the list as it’s promised to work towards eliminating all single use plastic checkout bags across all its stores by 2025.

Scores may have taken a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, as efforts to reduce plastic waste worldwide were halted. Laws such as single use plastic bag bans were delayed to reduce the spread of coronavirus as little was known about the transmission of the virus. Oregon was set to begin the implementation of a new single use plastic bag ban but the state suspended its implementation.

Petty said eliminating single use water bottles is the beginning of what will ultimately be more reduction of plastics throughout the store. The store is looking into ways to evaluate and implement other packaging improvements— like half-pie clam shell containers, grab and go items in the produce department and switching to lighter weight or reduced footprint packaging for bulk tubs.

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