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Wegmans ditches plastic bags in New York ahead of state ban

Shoppers at Wegmans Food Markets across New York are no longer carting their groceries home in plastic bags. Starting Monday, the grocery chain is ditching single-use plastic bags, with a statewide ban set to take effect March 1 in the Empire State.

Those who don't bring or buy their own reusable sacks can pay five cents apiece for paper bags, with any profits donated to local food pantries, according to the 101-store Wegmans chain, which also operates in neighboring Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts as well as Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

Across its chain, Wegmans found that reusable bags account for only a fifth of all bags used. But a test Wegmans conducted in two stores in New York state found that customers opted to bring reusable bags when the company imposed a small fee for paper bags.

"On average today, 20% of the bags used across all Wegmans stores are reusable. However, at our pilot stores in Corning and Ithaca, we've flipped that statistic so that only 20% of the bags used are single-use bags," according to Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans packaging and sustainability manager.

That said, the grocery chain has no immediate intention to remove plastic bags from its stores outside New York, with a spokesperson emailing CBS MoneyWatch: "We don't have specific plans to remove them from stores in other states. However, we will continue to focus on helping our customers shift to reusable bags."

Other supermarket chains are also moving away from plastic bags as more cities and states ban them. Plastic bags are considered especially bad for the environment as they are made with petroleum and don't decompose. 

Walmart, the planet's largest retailer, last April began offering reusable bags at the checkout counters in U.S. stores. Kroger, the nation's biggest grocery chain, in May said it would eliminate plastic bags by 2025. 

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New York is among more than half a dozen states to ban plastic grocery bags; others include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and Oregon.

Already complying with bag bans in several Massachusetts communities since 2014, Big Y Foods in August shelved plastic checkout bags at its more than 80 supermarkets across the state and in Connecticut, with the latter state enacting a 10-cent tax on disposable plastic bags.

Stop & Shop also dropped plastic bags, but only at its 91 stores in Connecticut. It also operates another 300-plus stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

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