Big Y to eliminate plastic bags

Shoppers enter the Big Y supermarket in Naugatuck on Thursday. The grocery retailer announced Thursday it will ban plastic bags from its stores starting Aug. 1. -HARRISON CONNERY/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Regional supermarket chain Big Y announced Thursday it will eliminate single-use plastic bags at all of its stores on Aug. 1, the day a state-mandated 10-cent fee for the bag goes into effect.

Richard D. Bossie, Big Y senior vice president of operations and customer experience, said the company’s decision to transition away from plastic bags this summer, rather than in 2020 as originally planned, will allow the grocer to streamline operations.

“We have been complying with single-use plastic bag bans with a gradual rollout over the last few years; more and more of the communities we serve are making changes to laws around single-use plastic bags, all of which are a little bit different,” Bossie said. “Instead of implementing different regulations in each store, we made the decision to streamline efforts, addressing the single intent of the various laws with one program across all locations.”

The decision was catalyzed by Connecticut’s statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, though more than 10 stores in Massachusetts and five in-state stores already operate under municipal plastic bag restrictions. Big Y estimates it has been distributing 100 million plastic bags per year through its 80 locations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, including Naugatuck.

Starting Aug. 1, the company will impose a 10-cent fee on every single-use paper bag needed at checkout.

“This fee promotes new habits and behaviors around the use of reusable bags rather than shoppers relying on paper as an alternative, which also causes harm to the environment,” Bossie said. “We have found that it typically takes one month for shoppers to get used to bringing their own bags.”

To ease the transition away from plastic, throughout the month of August the grocer will offer discounts on reusable bags, which are priced from $1 to $2.50. Bossie said the company is considering “other possible options to reduce or eliminate the expense” for low-income shoppers.

Environmental advocates have long called for a ban on non-biodegradable plastic grocery bags, which can pollute roadways, woods and waterways if they escape the grasp of overloaded shoppers or aren’t disposed of properly from the home.

In June the state legislature passed a gradual ban on plastic bags that includes a state-mandated 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags beginning Aug. 1. Grocery retailers have until 2021 to phase the bags out completely. The fee does not apply to people subscribed to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.