The paper-or-plastic option at the supermarket checkout line will be phased out for Harris Teeter shoppers, though not anytime soon.
Kroger Co., the largest U.S. grocery chain, said Thursday it plans to replace plastic bags with reusable bags at all of its nearly 2,800 stores over the next six to seven years.
They include 35 supermarkets in South Carolina that operate under the Harris Teeter and Kroger brands.
The phase-out will begin at a chain called QFC that the Cincinnati-based company owns in the Seattle area. It has not been determined when the new policy will be extended to the South Carolina stores.
"We will need time to finalize our plans, as a commitment of this magnitude will take time," spokeswoman Danna Robinson said Wednesday. "For now, our shoppers should not expect to see any immediate changes in their Harris Teeter."
Kroger's goal is to replace plastic bags with the reusable variety company-wide by 2025. CEO Rodney McMullen said the switch is part of the supermarket operator's "Zero Hunger|Zero Waste" initiative.
"It's a bold move that will better protect our planet for future generations," he said in a written statement.
Kroger said it orders about 6 billion plastic bags annually for its 2,779 stores in 35 states and Washington, D.C. It also cited studies that have estimated that a total about 100 billion of the bags are thrown away each year.
The grocery store giant said it will be seeking customer feedback about the change and will be working with outside groups throughout the transition.
"We listen very closely to our customers and our communities, and we agree with their growing concerns," said Mike Donnelly, Kroger's chief operating officer. "That's why, starting today at QFC, we will begin the transition to more sustainable options. This decision aligns with our Restock Kroger commitment to live our purpose through social impact."
The move reflects a broader shift under way at major U.S. corporations to cut down on products that are considered harmful to the environment.
For example, American Airlines, Disney, Starbucks, Marriott and McDonald's are getting rid of plastic straws, and McDonald's plans to use only recycled or other environmentally safe materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging by 2025. Dunkin' Donuts is phasing out polystyrene foam cups by 2020. Ikea plans to eliminate single-use plastic products from its shelves by 2020.
State and local governments also are getting into the act.
In Mount Pleasant, town officials passed an ordinance this year that will prohibit businesses in South Carolina's fourth-largest municipality from distributing plastic straws, polystyrene foam containers and single-use plastic bags. It takes effect next April.
Elsewhere, bigger U.S. cities have passed various bans. And California has outlawed disposable plastic bags, along with Boston, the Texas capital of Austin and every county in Hawaii.