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Wegmans Ditches HBW Products With Polyethylene Microbeads

Wegmans Food Markets is removing all health, beauty and wellness (HBW) care products containing microbeads made of polyethylene, a form of plastic, from all store shelves by mid-February 2016.

Microbeads can be found in some face washes, body scrubs and toothpastes. The synthetic plastic particles pass through drains and wastewater treatment plants into natural waterways, where they don’t break down. According to recent studies, the microbeads can become coated with other toxins and ingested by some marine species.

Because of their perceived threat to aquatic life (the Great Lakes, among other bodies of water, have been identified as containing large concentrations of the particles), legislation has been proposed across the United States, including a microbead ban in Erie County, N.Y., that will take effect in February 2016. Wegmans has 11 stores in the area, but made the decision to remove microbead products from all 88 of its stores across six states.

“We feel this is the right thing to do for the communities we serve,” explained Mary Ellen Burris, Wegmans’ SVP of consumer affairs. “It falls under our sustainability mission to make responsible decisions that positively impact people, business and the environment.”

Wegmans Non-Foods Quality Assurance Manager Betsy Crater performed an in-house inventory to make sure that no Wegmans brand products contain microbeads. The review also identified the national-brand HBW items with microbeads sold at Wegmans stores, including some pore cleansers, body scrubs, acne washes and toothpastes accounting for a small percentage of overall HBW sales.

The manufacturers of these items are already reformulating ingredients to exclude microbeads, according to the grocer, with many expected to be completed quickly although some skin care products could take as much as a year, noted Jessi Chichelli, a Wegmans HBW category merchant. From her work with suppliers to gauge the expected timelines for reworked formulas to appear on shelves, Chichelli is able to recommend appropriate product substitutions for shoppers.

“We know customers are loyal to their skin care products, so we want to help them during this transition,” she said. “We’re also seeing a lot of growth in natural skin care lines as customers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact from what they put on and in their bodies.”

Signs on Wegmans store shelves will provide information on the initiative, and customers can also read about it online.

Family-owned Wegmans operates 88 supermarkets in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts.

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