Yoke's Is First U.S. Grocer With 100% Degradable Plastic Bags

SPOKANE, Wash. -- At a time when San Francisco and some other cities are considering imposing fees on grocery bags to cut down on pollution from bag waste, Yoke's Fresh Markets here is set to become the first grocery chain in the nation to offer 100 percent degradable plastic bags that the company says are just as strong as nondegradable bags and can still be reused.

According to Yoke's, Totally Degradable Plastic Additives (TDPAs) from Vancouver, B.C.-based EPI Environmental Plastics, Inc. are added to the plastic, allowing the bags to break down after a certain period of time. TDPA technology can be applied in large or small amounts, permitting a variety of shelf life and degradation times, depending on the customer's needs. The bags break down by oxo-biodegradation, a two-stage process in which the plastic first fragments into smaller particles when exposed to oxygen, then ultimately biodegrades, leaving only carbon dioxide, water and micro-organism cells.

"We consider this to be one of the most important and responsible steps we have been able to take for our customers and the community," said Yoke's s.v.p. Denny York in a statement. "We will proudly convert all of our plastic bags by later this spring." York told Progressive Grocer that the bags could take from 55 days to five or six years to break down, depending on their exposure to water and soil, and the amount of TDPAs contained in a bag. According to York, Yoke's shopping bags will degrade in about 60 days in a landfill, but will last indefinitely if kept in a dry storage area awaiting use.

York added that the grocer began using the large T-shirt bags two months before the official rollout to see if they were up to Yoke's exacting standards, and the bags passed the test. "They're holding up great," he says. Now signage heralds the new bags, front end personnel and checkers are ready to tell customers all about them, and the bags themselves have information printed on them -- right under the Yoke's label. "We're gonna make a big deal of it," noted York.

He said that the grocer would also order other degradable bags, including produce roll bags, pharmacy bags, meat and seafood bags, and Ziploc-type and sandwich bags for the grocery division's private label Yoke's Fresh Market brand.

"We think others will follow [in adopting the bags]," said York, who notes that such bags have been in use for several years in Europe. "We're excited."

Other products that have successfully incorporated TDPA are refuse and compost compatible bags, shrink-wraps, fast-food packaging, and disposable cutlery and diapers, the company said.

Yoke's, an independent, employee-owned regional operator, has 12 stores in the Spokane area, Tri-Cities, Sandpoint, and Kellogg, with plans to open a thirteenth in Tri-Cities next year.
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