We Can All Learn A Thing Or Two From Trader Joes

Published on April 24, 2019

If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s a plastic-free commitment from brands.

Trader Joes, the wildly popular grocery store chain with over 400 locations nationwide, announced an initiative on December 31 of last year to eliminate around 1 million pounds of plastic from its stores by 2020. We’re now through the first quarter and celebrating #EarthDayIsEveryday. So it’s time to check in on how good ol’ TJ’s is doing on that front. Removing 1 million pounds of plastic in one year seems like a big commitment. But with over 400 stores it really means making small changes over time in order to make a big difference.

What Was Promised

Trader Joes made the initial announcement to cut back on its plastic use on New Years Eve of 2018. In a blog post published to the company’s website, the post read, “Taking into consideration our customer feedback and our desire to be great neighbors, we have been taking a careful look at our packaging and the opportunities that exist to make improvements, with respect to sustainability.” In the blog post, the company listed the factors that determine whether or not its products are sustainable in the first place.

“A fundamental focus of sustainability is maintaining product integrity and preventing food waste. We strive to balance the key role packaging plays in this effort with the overall impact packaging has on the ecosystem, as we approach making any changes,” wrote the company. “We are also aware that the realistic opportunities for recycling materials, along with differing understandings of what is the “best choice” for sustainability, makes this work complex,” Trader Joes announced in a blog post on the company’s website.

Some of the ways in which Trader Joes has already implemented sustainability efforts is by no longer offering single-use plastic bags. It’s also eliminated plastic packaging where possible. It did so by switching from plastic to recyclable materials where plastic couldn’t be outright eliminated. One example is in the deli department. Where meats were previously sold on Styrofoam trays, they’re now sold on a compostable material that’s bio-based.

How It’s Being Implemented

As of now, Trader Joes is honing in on specific products that can be sold without plastic. Especially single use plastic or plastic products that will be thrown away once they’re purchased. It’s greeting cards, for example, will no longer be sold in plastic sleeves. Instead they’ll come in a recyclable material that can be discarded without worry. The deli will be working on migrating to 100% compostable materials to eliminate its use of Styrofoam. Meanwhile, the company will also be getting rid of plastic and foil packaging in its teas.

These small changes will create big progress. The company’s way of prioritizing its commitment is shown through these implementations. It may seem hard to eliminate a lot of plastic from your life. But making small changes in how you consume can create a big difference in the amount of waste you’re responsible for. It’s probably safe to say that everyone has room to make small adjustments in their consumption habits. And we can learn a thing or two from Trader Joes.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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