Walmart bets on Canadian customers accepting 5-cent fee for plastic bags

Walmart believes most of its Canadian customers will accept the fact they will have to pay for disposable plastic bags in future, given that it could help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills.

Retail giant says use of similar fees has helped drive down use of disposable plastic bags elsewhere

Walmart's Canadian consumers will soon have to pay five cents for each disposable plastic bag they use to take home their purchases. The file photo above shows customers packing up their purchases at a store in the U.S. last year. (Danny Johnston/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

Walmart believes most of its Canadian customers will accept having to pay for disposable plastic bags in future, given that it could help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills.

Customers at hundreds of Walmart stores across the country will soon have to pay five cents for each plastic bag they use when taking their purchases home. The chain will also be offering these customers the options of buying reusable bags that will cost a quarter each.

The retail giant says this approach has helped dramatically reduce the use of plastic bags in other markets around the world.

Alex Roberton, senior director for corporate affairs at Walmart Canada, said the company realizes it is asking customers at nearly 400 Canadian stores to make changes to the way they shop.

But the company has undertaken research that suggests their customers will support this move.

"The vast majority of our customers feel that we already give out too many plastic bags and they want us to do something about the amount of plastic waste that goes into landfill," Roberton told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive in an interview.

'Consumers understand'

June Cotte, a marketing professor at the Ivey School of Business, believes Walmart is correct that many customers will accept this move, whether out of resignation or active approval.

"I do think that a lot of consumers understand that charging for things that are bad make people use less of them," Cotte told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive in an interview on Tuesday.

But she said Walmart will still have some critics, particularly those who aren't impressed that only a portion of the money paid out for plastic bags will go to what the company says are "recycling initiatives."

"That's unfortunate," said Cotte.

When Walmart announced its forthcoming policy on plastic bags this week, it said in a news release that a portion of the proceeds would help support "plastic film recycling initiatives."

Roberton said that Walmart is in discussion with provincial recycling councils across the country about ways of supporting those initiatives.

He also said that from the retailer's perspective, the goal of the new policy is to get people using fewer plastic bags.

"The best case scenario for us is that we don't sell a single plastic bag and then everybody switches over to reusable bags," he said.

"We know that's not going to happen overnight, which is why we've got the five-cent bags in place and other ways to make it easier for customers to get their products home."

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