This Week in Sustainability

New York retailers brace for plastic bag ban; BP sets net zero emissions goal; and food waste is worse than experts thought.

February 14, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, VA.—Sustainability is fast becoming top of mind for convenience and fuel retailers, and at NACS Daily, our newsfeed is filled with headlines about efforts to minimize waste—of the packaging or food variety—and to reduce or offset carbon emissions. Here are some stories we’ve been following so far in February.

New York’s plastic bag ban takes effect March 1. C-stores, grocery stores and other shops must switch over to paper bags or reusable bags by then, and it’s up to localities to decide if stores need to charge a paper bag fee. New York has more than 8,000 convenience stores, gas stations and bodegas. For retailers, paper bags are about seven times pricier to buy in bulk than plastic bags, according to Jim Calvin, president of the state Association of Convenience Stores. “It does cost us a lot, but it’s not a choice we can make,” Javar Almugannahi, who owns Genesee One Stop Mart in Rochester, told the Democrat & Chronicle. “If [customers] want a paper bag, I can’t charge them for that,” Almugannahi told the newspaper. “People will just go to a different store.” Eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont—have banned single-use plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Source: Democrat & Chronicle)

BP pledges to be net zero emissions by 2050. The British oil giant said it would eliminate or offset all of the carbon emissions from its operations plus emissions caused by burning the oil and gas it pumps and sells by 2050. BP aims to halve the carbon intensity, or the amount of emissions per unit of energy, of its products by 2050 or earlier and reduce methane emissions of its operations by 50%. “The world's carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero,” CEO Bernard Looney said. “We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough. It must also be cleaner. To deliver that, trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it.” (Source: BusinessGreen)

Tennessee shoppers would have to use their own bags or pay for reusable ones under a bill introduced in the legislature. State Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) and Representative Dave Wright (R-Knoxville) introduced a bill that would prevent grocery stores, retail stores and foodservice businesses from providing free plastic bags or paper bags to customers. Eliminating “plastic bags isn’t going to fix the whole problem, but it does present the opportunity to have an awareness, and it can be the first step of where we need to go from here,” Sen. Briggs told Knox News. Rob Ikard, president and chief executive of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, told Knox News: “We just need one set of rules statewide. Tell us what that set of rules is and we’ll abide by it.” (Source: Knox News)

The average person wastes 527 calories of food a day. A new analysis by Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands published in the journal PLoS ONE indicates that a widely used metric on food waste worldwide overestimates the amount of food consumed because it doesn’t account for food waste in its model, especially as it relates to socioeconomic factors. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2011 estimated that a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, but the Wageningen study authors say that’s only part of the story. The authors looked at the relationship between consumer affluence and food waste and found that a linear-log relationship emerges when consumers reach a spending threshold of about $6.70 per day per capita. The data suggest that the FAO’s widely cited estimate underestimates by a factor greater than two how much food is wasted worldwide (214 calories per day per capita versus 527 calories per day per capita). (Sources: Bloomberg; PLoS ONE)

A sweeping federal bill would ban common single-use plastic products and levy a bottle fee. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act to hold the plastics industry, beverage makers and other firms financially responsible for dealing with post-consumer waste. The legislation would ban plastic carryout bags, food and drinkware from expanded polystyrene, plastic stirrers and plastic utensils. Straws would only be available upon request. The legislation calls for a national bottle bill that would levy deposits of 10 cents per bottle, a carryout bag fee, standardized labels on recycling and composting bins and a requirement that packaging manufacturers pay for waste collection instead of taxpayers. The measure also takes aim at plastic tobacco filters, e-cigarette parts and fishing gear. No Republicans signed on as co-sponsors. (Sources: The New York Times, Plastic Pollution Coalition)

Dart Container Corp. is fighting back against foam food and beverage container bans. The Michigan-based manufacturer of foam cups, clamshell food containers, plastic coffee cup lids, plastic cutlery and plastic and paper cups employs about 15,000 employees in 14 states. After Maryland banned polystyrene foam containers last year, Dart Container shut down its warehouses in the state. It sued San Diego, alleging that the city didn’t conduct a thorough environmental impact study before it enacted its polystyrene foam container ban. The manufacturer says it doesn’t make sense to single-out one form of container over others that also impact the environment. Polystyrene can be recycled, but not many localities recycle it, so Dart offers to collect and recycle used foam containers for cities for free. (Source: The New York Times)

Increasing access to food stores can help cut down on food waste. Researchers examined the relationship between grocery store density and consumer food waste, which contributes to carbon emissions, and found that an increase in store density decreases food waste because consumers have better access to groceries and shop more frequently, buying fewer items per trip. Published in the journal Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, the Cornell University study found that higher store density spurs more competition, which further decreases waste when stores compete on prices. The author said most American cities are far short of the number of grocery stores needed to substantially reduce food waste. (Sources: MarketWatch; Manufacturing & Service Operations Management)

To learn more about minimizing food waste in your foodservice operations, head over to NACS Magazine to read “Waste Not, Want Not” in the August 2019 issue, and for more on plastics, see “The New Plastic Economy” in the September 2019 issue. To read what industry veteran Jacob Schram has to say about capitalizing on the EV evolution, read “EVs Ahead” in the August 2019 issue.

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