The sustainability journey for single-use plastic isn’t new for grocery retailers. But, since the pandemic, the path for a solution has only widened due to consumer demand.

An overwhelming majority of consumers, 87%, agree that companies bear a responsibility to protect the planet and its people, according to a single-use plastics consumer report from global materials-science technology company Footprint.

“They not only want to know where their food comes from, but how it’s packaged and what impacts that packaging has on the environment,” Rachel Kenyon, SVP for nonprofit trade group Fibre Box Association, told WGB. “Most of all, they want brands to demonstrate that they are listening.”

Looking to keep plastics out of landfills, Ahold Delhaize USA, ExxonMobil and Sealed Air (commonly known as SEE) are collaborating on an advanced recycling initiative. The project recycles flexible plastics from the food supply chain and remakes them into new, certified circular food-grade packaging.

The partnership has the potential to radically change the way retailers and manufacturers leverage food-grade recycled plastics, Brittni Furrow, VP of health and sustainability for Ahold Delhaize USA, told WGB in an exclusive interview.

“This is a partnership that we are excited about because our company has been committed to helping to solve the plastic conundrum for a while,” Furrow said. 

Another grocery retailer working to do away with single-use plastics is Giant Eagle, which has committed to eliminating all such items. Rochester, N.Y-based chain Wegmans also said it will eliminate plastic bags chainwide by the end of 2022, with the goal of shifting all shoppers to reusable bags.

These moves aren't just good for the planet. There's a clear business case to be made for shifting to eco-friendly packaging, Retail Insight CEO Paul Boyle noted.

“It’s now more important than ever that grocers’ sustainability initiatives go beyond the rhetoric," Boyle said. "Consumers are voting with their feet—and their wallets.”