After a six-month adjustment period, Montreal officially outlawed plastic bags thinner than 50 microns or 0.05 millimetres starting in June 2018 along with supposedly compostable bags that degraded into damaging micro-bits. It was the first major Canadian city to do so, following in the footsteps of Boucherville and Huntingdon.
Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
Canadian grocery giant Sobeys took a giant leap forward Wednesday, announcing it will stop doling out single-use plastic shopping bags at the checkouts of its supermarkets nationwide in January, 2020.But the chain’s Montreal stores — which fly the IGA and Rachelle Béry banners — will get a jump-start on the effort. As of Sept. 3., customers on the Island of Montreal will have to bring their own reusable shopping bags, or opt for paper instead.This is a welcome, timely and decisive move by a major industry player that will make a significant dent in the country’s needless reliance on a throw-away convenience that is hurting the planet. And in Montreal, it goes one important step further than the regulatory ban in place for over a year now.After a six-month adjustment period, Montreal officially outlawed plastic bags thinner than 50 microns or 0.05 millimetres starting in June 2018 along with supposedly compostable bags that degraded into damaging micro-bits. It was the first major Canadian city to do so, following in the footsteps of Boucherville and Huntingdon.However not all Montrealers have embraced bringing their own reusable bags to the supermarket. The city still permits grocery stores and dépanneurs to distribute thicker bags over 50 microns, on the flimsy grounds that they don’t blow away as easily. And anecdotal observation suggests cashiers still offer and customers regularly accept the thicker bags — making the ban a bit of a farce.How much of a farce? The voluntary effort by just three dozen IGA and Rachelle Béry stores will eliminate 12 million single-use plastic shopping bags. This in a city where we claim to prohibit them. Extrapolate and we can imagine how many thicker plastic bags are still being distributed in violation of the spirit and intent, if not Montreal’s actual law.That’s not to say the city’s plastic bag is pointless. It’s just that coddling stubborn consumers has undermined the effectiveness. The Société des alcools du Québec got rid of both plastic and paper bags a decade ago and the public quickly got over it. So IGA is giving its customers a much-needed nudge forward.Plastic bags remain all too prevalent despite years of promoting alternatives and trying to deter their use with fees and regulation. In Montreal at least, the drastic action underscores the power of industry leadership, propelled by heightened consumer concerns about environmental stewardship. Backed by customer and employee demand, Sobeys is also introducing reusable mesh produce bags made from plastic bottles in August. Métro Inc. began allowing customers to bring their own containers for its deli, bakery, butcher and seafood products in April. And Loblaws (Provigo in most of Quebec) will test the Loop system in the Toronto area, where major brands like Tide and Haagen Daz will be available in reusable and returnable metal containers that last 15 years.Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has already pledged to declare war on disposable plastic cutlery and styro-foam takeout shells. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a strategy to tackle single-use plastics. However proactive industry action is positive and necessary.Some might look at these announcements cynically, as PR stunts or greenwashing. But excessive packaging, much of it made of plastics, is a crisis both local and global in nature. Municipal recycling and garbage collection programs are under strain as countries like China close their doors to the world’s trash. Plastic garbage is littering beaches, polluting the oceans and choking bird and marine life. Cutting waste at the source is essential to tackling this abomination.Some customers may grumble that they repurpose grocery bags for garbage and other people may argue paper or reusable bags exact their own environmental toll. But more and more are getting the message. While we do have to be cautious about replacing one harmful item with another, there’s no good excuse for allowing disposable plastic bags to proliferate.They are only one part of the global plastic problem – but a significant one. Plastic bags are used for an average of 20 minutes before being discarded, then take 400 to 1,000 years to decompose. Some 5 trillion plastic bags are tossed worldwide each year, despite 127 countries restricting their use. Canadians go through over 2 billion annually.Implementing the new policy in 255 Sobeys stores Canada-wide will slash 225 million plastic bags from circulation, the company says. That impact will be magnified when all 1,500 stores owned by parent company Empire Co. Ltd. eventually phase them out.If fierce competition in the grocery industry pushes other chains to follow suit, the result could be larger still. But environmentally conscious consumers must continue to flex their email@example.comRelated