Stop & Shop has ended its reusable bag rebate program Sunday after five years, a move that frustrated environmental groups and prompted one to decline a $10,000 donation from the supermarket chain.
The program, which launched in 2008, gave customers a 5-cent rebate for each reusable bag they filled buying groceries. Designed to decrease plastic bag consumption, the initiative saved 15 million plastic and paper bags last year, said Arlene Putterman, a Stop & Shop spokeswoman.
Now, the grocer, which has stores throughout Long Island, has terminated the program, citing "a plateau in effectiveness."
"It became a cultural change," Putterman said. "It got to the point where the program was no longer influencing customers to bring reusable bags. They were doing it on their own. We want to be able to reinvest in other ways that are more environmentally impactful."
In a letter to customers about the change, Don Sussman, president of Stop & Shop's New York Metro Division, announced his company would donate $10,000 to The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. The Conservancy, unaware of the donation at the time Stop & Shop's letter was written, declined the offer.
Nature Conservancy spokeswoman Kara Jackson said the donation was declined to avoid rumors and confusion.
"We did not want to give the false impression that the Nature Conservancy was involved in Stop & Shop's decision," Jackson said. "That is not where the Nature Conservancy stands."
Local environmental groups have been frustrated by the change, saying the company's policy reversal could have tangible consequences.
According to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, plastic bag use can lead to increased pollution of beaches, bays, parkways and neighborhoods, higher cleanup costs for municipalities and the loss of wildlife and marine life. Reusable bags can also save retailers money, since white plastic bags cost about 1.5 cents each.
"It was a really good initiative. It worked for everyone," said Esposito, whose organization seeks a ban on plastic bags similar to those in Seattle, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.
Shoppers in West Babylon seemed miffed though unfazed as they used store-branded reusable bags. "When I got the letter, I was disappointed," said Georgia Cava, of West Babylon. "It felt good that the store was doing something positive. Now, it's over. But I'm still here."
In a 2011 evaluation of reusable bag policies, the Citizens Campaign gave Stop & Shop an A-plus. "Today," Esposito said, "We'd give them an F."