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How will Wegmans' plastic bag ban affect Instacart deliveries?

Grocery shopping will be a whole new experience for many consumers across the Buffalo Niagara region, once a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags takes effect.

The statewide ban doesn't kick in until March 1, but Wegmans shoppers will get an early preview of it when the Rochester-based supermarket chain stops using single-use plastic bags Jan. 27 — more than a month before the broader ban takes effect.

Readers wondered how that would affect Instacart deliveries  and other parts of their shopping experience. Digital engagement editor Qina Liu helped compile questions from readers.

From Marilyn Rodgers: What about Instacart deliveries?

That's a great question, since shoppers using Instacart or the Wegmans 2Go shopping services won't be there to provide their own reusable bags.

For shoppers using those services, their orders will be filled using paper bags, said Michele Mehaffy, a Wegmans spokeswoman in Buffalo.

And it won't cost them any extra. "Customers who use Instacart or Wegmans 2Go will not be charged the 5-cent fee, as they do not have the option of using a reusable bag for these platforms," she said.

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From Charles Magavero: Will Wegmans just return the items to the cart, so the customer can bag them himself?

Wegmans isn't going the route of deep discounters Aldi and Save-A-Lot, where cashiers return each item to a shopper's cart during the checkout process and consumers bag their own items after paying.

Shoppers with reusable bags can hand them to the cashier, who will use them to bag their orders, Mehaffy said. Or the cashier can place the items in paper bags that consumers purchase for 5-cents apiece.

"Our cashiers always bag reusable bags for customers and have been for years," Mehaffy said.

"If a customer does not have a bag to use or does not want to use paper bags, then yes, the items would be placed back into the shopping cart and the customer can put them in their car," she said.

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From @pastajoe5 on Twitter: I use paper bags to hold the paper I put in my recycle bin. What’s the alternative? 

This will be a big adjustment for resourceful consumers who reuse their single-use plastic bags to line kitchen or bathroom garbage cans, or shoppers who use paper bags to hold recyclable items.

Aside from stocking up on those bags now, while you still can, think about using a reusable container to collect recyclables before they go into the bin. Most municipalities in the Buffalo Niagara region don't require consumers to separate paper items from plastic and glass in recycle bins, so keeping paper in a paper bag isn't a requirement for most Western New Yorkers.

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From @mamalookoo on Twitter: What about the paper they get from trees? They will now destroy more forests for more paper. How is this helping anything?

The idea behind the statewide ban isn't to encourage consumers to switch to paper bags (though that is an option). The idea is to get shoppers to switch to bags that can be reused over and over and over again.

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While Erie and Niagara counties haven't imposed the 5-cent fee for paper bags that the state law allows, Wegmans is making its own corporate policy to charge the extra fee even where it isn't mandated.

The chain tested out the policy at stores in Corning and Ithaca last year and found that consumers quickly moved away from single-use plastic bags. Only about 20% of all the bags currently used at Wegmans stores are reusable, the company said. But during the pilot program, consumers made a big move toward reusable bags and paper. The percentage of bags that were single-use dropped to about 20%.

Wegmans also noted that a recent survey of its customers found that 95% already own at least one reusable bag, and 87% have three or more.

"We have always understood the need to reduce single-use grocery bags. Our thinking on this issue has always been the same: Reusable bags are the best way to solve the challenges of single-use checkout bags," Mehaffy said.

"We want to get out in front of the New York State ban. We are trying to help our customers shift to reusable bags, which we know are far better than paper bags for the environment," she said. "This is why we are implementing the 5-cent fee. We have data showing that charging a small fee to disincentivize paper bags is effective."

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From Louis Ciola: Tops has plastic bags, which are reusable and cost 10 cents apiece. Instead of banning plastic bags, why don't the manufacturers make a bag that will disintegrate within one year after it's exposed to water and sunlight? The 5 cents a bag fee is ridiculous. They ought to charge 5 cents a plastic bag and refund that money when the customer brings them back to recycle.

This is what Mehaffy had to say: "We believe our Wegmans reusable bags are a great option for customers, with strong handles to make it easy for customers to use. They’re also extremely inexpensive at 99 cents per bag. ... It’s about creating the habit of remembering to bring those bags to the store each time you shop."

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From Roy Lind: So I go into Wegmans and the widest and longest aisle in the store is filled with thousands of plastic (water) bottles piled high. … What is wrong with this picture?

Environmentalists agree that single-use plastic water bottles are bad for the environment and a big source of landfill waste that doesn't decompose. But that's not part of the ban on single-use plastic bags, and while Wegmans is taking a more sweeping approach than it's required to do by imposing the 5-cent fee on paper bags at all of its stores, it isn't changing anything with plastic water bottles. And neither are other grocery chains.

"We offer a choice to customers," Mehaffy said. "There are currently no plans to stop selling water at our stores. Water bottles are both redeemable and recyclable."

Attention Wegmans shoppers: Chain to ban plastic bags on Jan. 27

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