Paper or reusable?

That’s the choice customers will have starting January 15 at Giant Eagle’s Market District and GetGo stores in Fox Chapel when the chain will stop using plastic bags at the checkout counter.

Instead, in a six-month pilot program which will also launch at two Ohio stores, the company will offer paper bags for 10 cents each and reusable bags for 99 cents. During that time, shoppers can earn Giant Eagle Advantage Card perks for using reusable bags. Customers paying with SNAP and WIC will not be charged a paper bag fee.

“Today we’re announcing a very important step, we believe, in protecting the environment for future generations. By 2025, we will have eliminated all single-use plastic from our stores,” Giant Eagle CEO Laura Shapira Karet said Tuesday at a press conference announcing the program. The chain is partnering with the City of Pittsburgh and Sustainable Pittsburgh to launch the initiative. “I hope you will join us in taking a bunch of very small steps that will make a big difference for our world.”

Mayor Peduto spoke at the Giant Eagle announcement about eliminating single-use plastics. Photo by Joe Lewis.

Every year, Americans use 14 billion plastic bags and only recycle a mere one percent, noted Dan Donovan, a Giant Eagle spokesperson.

“This is an ambitious commitment that reflects the unique moment in time, one where we as a company and we as a community need to refresh our perspective on our planet and what we must do to protect it,” said Shapira Karet.

The goal, she said, is to eliminate single-use plastics by 2025 in all 474 Giant Eagle stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Indiana and West Virginia.

That includes straws, single-serve fresh food containers and bottled beverages, as well as the plastic bags.

The company will work with suppliers to shift plastic single-serve containers to recycled paper and will launch Giant Eagle boxed water in the spring. Carnegie Mellon University will study the pilot program to determine large-scale best practices and feasibility.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, both in attendance, expressed their support of Giant Eagle’s efforts while noting environmental efforts of their own. For example, the county banned the use of plastic straws and recently recycled 100,000 pounds of cardboard. The Mayor announced a citywide, three-year program where every household will be given a blue recycling bin.

“Sustainability is about more than the bottom line,” said Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Joylette Portlock at the event. “It is a comprehensive, ongoing commitment to healthy residents, vibrant communities and to advancing environmentally responsible practices.”

She emphasized the importance of the Giant Eagle program in reducing plastic materials and not just recycling which has proven to be ineffective. Americans recycle only nine percent of the plastic materials they use. You can’t just throw things away, she said. “There is no away.”