Here’s How Trader Joe’s Plans to Crack Down on Plastic

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Ariel Knutson)

We love Trader Joe’s — almost everyone does — but there are always a few things that give us pause. Can the employees really be as happy as they seem? What sort of dark magic is in those peanut butter-filled pretzels? And do they really need to use that much plastic?

While we haven’t quite solved the first two questions, last week the company announced that they are working on moving toward less plastic in the stores. So far they’ve stopped offering single-use plastic carryout bags, replaced plastic produce bags with biodegradable and compostable ones, eliminated Styrofoam packaging from the produce sections, and notified vendors to begin avoiding BPA, Polystyrene, and other substances they hope to remove from stores.

Next up, they’re going to reduce the items sold in plastic packages in the produce section, work on getting Styrofoam out of the meat departments, replace the plastic sleeves on greeting cards, replace plastic flower bags, and eliminate the non-recyclable plastic and foil packages from teas.

It’s a big undertaking, but also a huge step toward renewable, sustainable grocery stores: As larger chains like TJ’s make the move, the materials needed become cheaper and more accessible and accepted for smaller chains.

Trader Joe’s PR Director, Kenya Friend-Daniel, told Kitchn that the inspiration really came from listening to customer ideas (that’s us! We make a difference!). “Better managing our impact on the environment is something we’ve been working on for some time,” she says. But before they could get started, they had to understand how they could improve — and how it would impact the customers’ shopping experience.

That’s where they ran into some of the biggest challenges. “Identifying sustainable alternatives for recycling and composting is complex work,” Friend-Daniel says. “Realistic options are limited and still being innovated.” Not to mention, what is or isn’t the “best choice,” in terms of sustainability is really subjective at this point.

But so far, she says the response has been positive — customers have shared that they appreciate the company’s care and transparency. Which is good, because Friend-Daniel shares that they are going to keep collecting information on packaging in the stores and evaluating it for sustainability as they move forward. “We view this as ongoing work — in fact, never-ending work.”