Successful start to Sobeys’ plastic bag ban

Glenn Giddings puts his reusable bag in the car after shopping at Sobeys in Regina. Sine Jan 31, the chain is eliminating single-use plastic grocery bags at all Sobeys stores across Canada. Photo by Theresa Kliem

With Canadians using up to 15 billion plastic bags each year, Sobeys plans to remove 225 million – enough to wrap around the world twice.

Since Jan 31, customers at the chain’s 255 grocery stores can no longer get a plastic bag at check stands to pack their food.

“The response to our removing single-use plastic grocery bags has been very positive,” said Sobeys spokesperson Violet MacLeod in an email.

“Customers and our store teams have been giving great feedback and wrapping their arms around the change.”

Glenn Giddings, a customer in Regina, already switched to reusable bags prior to Sobeys’ decision to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

“I think it is a good one,” said Giddings. “Like I have … my reusable bags and I don’t miss them [the plastic bags] at all.”

Amanda Hastings is not a regular Sobeys customer, but she occasionally stops at the store on Albert Street on her way to work.

“I think it is neat as long as you can remember to bring your bags of course,” said Hastings.

“I usually try and stick at least one in my purse, but I am not always successful in that.”

While Sobeys motivates patrons to bring their own reusable bags, they also offer options such as different size reusable bags for a fee, and as a last resort paper bags for 10 cents.

“Our number one priority is to encourage reuse,” said MacLeod. “A portion of paper bag sales will be used to plant trees in Canada.”

Paper bags in general are not necessarily a cleaner alternative to plastic bags.

“A lot of the studies say that paper bags have … a bigger impact on the environment than plastic ones, single used plastic ones,” said Joanne Fedyk, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council.

“So I am hoping really what happens is that people switch to reusables.”

While Sobeys will no longer offer plastic grocery bags at their checkouts, the supermarkets are not completely plastic-bag free. The transparent produce bags are still available in the produce section of the stores. MacLeod said Sobeys works with suppliers and partners to find solutions to avoidable plastics in their produce sections. In August they introduced a line of reusable produce bags.

In 2019 the Government of Canada announced it would ban harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021.

Besides the 10 Sobeys locations in the province, plastic shopping bags are currently still available in different grocery stores in Saskatchewan, including Sobeys Inc.’s other banners such as Safeway. All of them still have a lot to do to reduce single-use plastics.

“I guess there is always excessive packaging on everything,” said Giddings.

“Like it takes to buy something or to get in, it takes scissors and pliers and it seems unnecessary.”

Fedyk has several recommendations for consumers and stores to reduce waste in general.

“Looking at things like food waste has quite a big impact,” said Fedyk.

“So getting people to consider the food they buy, make sure they have the use for it. Try and buy it with as little packaging as possible that kind of thing … and then just in general looking at ways to reduce our consumption of resources.”

Single-use plastic bags are not accepted in Regina’s recycling program because they get tangled up in the processing equipment and become an issue of maintenance of the plant.

Instead of putting plastic bags in the garbage cart for disposal, people can reuse them as garbage bags. According to the City of Regina online Waste Wizard, some places such as certain Sobeys and London Drugs locations allow customers to drop off plastic bags for recycling. People need to call in advance to confirm.

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