Costco’s strides to reduce product packaging landed the Issaquah-based wholesale club at No. 6 on Greenpeace’s best-to-worst ranking of 20 large grocery chains’ progress in eliminating single-use plastics, three slots higher than in Greenpeace’s 2019 audit.
The environmental group lauded Costco for transitioning food court packaging to compostable alternatives and pledging to reduce its use of Styrofoam — but said Costco, and every other chain it analyzed, should still be doing much more to lessen its plastic footprint. Costco declined to respond to questions about Greenpeace’s report.
All of the supermarkets Greenpeace ranked “continue to fail to address the pollution crisis,” said Greenpeace communications specialist Perry Wheeler.
Notably, Greenpeace’s ranking does not rely on information about the chains’ actual plastic footprint, which many grocers don’t divulge.
“Retailers’ transparency around those numbers absolutely is a continued barrier for the public,” Wheeler said. Moreover, ranking retailers on the amount of plastic they actually use would likely “end up just being a ranking by size,” he added. “We are ranking them on their approach to taking responsibility for the plastics in stores, independent of their size.”
Whole Foods, which Seattle-based Amazon acquired in 2017, came in at No. 10, one slot higher than in 2019. The grocer, the first in the nation to ban single-use plastic checkout bags and plastic straws, does not currently have any public policies or commitments to reduce its plastic footprint, Greenpeace found. Whole Foods did not respond to questions.
Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle was crowned the best performer on plastics use for its commitment to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2025. Aldi, Sprouts Farmers Market, Kroger — which owns Fred Meyer and QFC — and Albertsons were the next-best chains.
Bringing up the rear was Texas-based HEB, which is regularly ranked among the best grocery stores to be an employee.
Greenpeace scored the chains on their plastics policies, the degree to which they’ve reduced plastics use, new plastics-related initiatives and transparency, based on grocers’ responses to a 21-question survey, email and phone conversations, and public information.
“U.S. retailers are moving at a snail’s pace on plastic reduction efforts,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar in a statement. “There is not a single place that individuals are confronted with more single-use plastic than in our grocery stores, yet these companies continue to drag their feet and offer excuses.”
Greenpeace recently sued its seventh-ranked grocery chain, Walmart, for placing what the environmental group contends are misleading and deceptive recyclability labels on plastic products and packaging. Walmart is the only retailer Greenpeace ranked that publicly shares some of its plastic footprint.
While Whole Foods was an early leader in grocery sustainability, banning single-use plastic checkout bags in 2008, it has recently been more muted on the environmental front. The company announced a plastic straw ban shortly before the release of Greenpeace’s initial plastics report in June 2019, but since then “has been largely quiet on its website and doesn’t disclose information on its overall plastic footprint,” Greenpeace wrote. “When Walmart is more transparent than Whole Foods on plastics, that should give customers pause.”
Costco also took action on plastics in advance of Greenpeace’s initial plastics ranking, launching a strategy aiming to reduce packaging across its stores in May 2019.
The retailer’s goals, though commendable, lack specificity, Greenpeace contends.
Costco “lacks a comprehensive and bold time-bound policy that prioritizes the elimination of single-use plastics and scaling up of reuse, refill and package-free alternatives,” Greenpeace wrote in its report.
And while Costco makes a great deal of information about its plastics policies public, Greenpeace dinged Costco for not sharing data on its total plastic footprint across its 558 U.S. locations. (Costco has reported on annual reductions to its plastic footprint.)
Costco was the target of another aggressive Greenpeace campaign in 2010. Titled “Oh No Costco!” the effort highlighted the wholesale club’s sale of destructively farmed seafood species, ultimately prompting Costco to eliminate the sale of such fish at its stores.