Fort McMurray plastic bag ban leaves bag addicts looking for their next fix

For 10 years, those addicted to plastic shopping bags have lived uneasily with Fort McMurray's ban on the single-use bags.

'My retirement savings are locked in reusable bags'

Fort McMurray banned plastic shopping bags 10 years ago. (Mark Baker/The Canadian Press)

For 10 years, those addicted to plastic shopping bags have lived uneasily with Fort McMurray's ban on the single-use bags.

Longtime user Bradley Karp, morning show host of Country 93.3, said he started smuggling plastic bags back to Fort McMurray not long after the wildfire forced the community to evacuate in 2016.

"We were out of town for about a month and I went grocery shopping in Edmonton and I got plastic bags and it was kind of a revelation."

He was hooked.

Now, whenever Karp goes out of town he makes sure to bring back a plastic bag full of plastic bags.

"I'm pretty sure there's a pretty heavy black market for plastic bags in this city," Karp said.

He said remembering to bring his reusable bags to the grocery store has been a struggle.

"You forget them, you're not going to drive home because that's going to burn $3 in gas. The bags are only a buck each. So you buy another bag."

He said he has about 100 of them.

Bradley Karp says he's been smuggling plastic bags back into Fort McMurray since the 2016 evacuation. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"My retirement savings are locked in reusable bags."

He said the only other option at the grocery store is what he refers to as the Fort McMurray 100-metre dash.

"How far can you walk with 12 random grocery items in your arms before dropping them because you're too cheap or you're tired of buying reusable bags for the millionth time."

He said he donates his stash of reusable bags to the food bank when he gets too many.

Fewer bags, more garbage

Karp's story is familiar to others in town. Coun. Keith McGrath uses his connections to feed his plastic bag habit.

McGrath knows a few Sobeys managers who slide him a few extra bags when he buys his groceries out of town.

A year ago, McGrath travelled to Cape Breton. 

"I think I must've got a little over a hundred bags on that trip."

That's in tandem with the hundreds of reusable bags he's bought since the ban.

"A lot of those bags you can't use because if you put meat in them, by right you're not supposed to reuse them."

He thinks the ban, which came in 2009 after a high-school student collected 2,300 signatures, has had a negative impact on Fort McMurray as a whole.

"I appreciate people trying to help the environment, but what I've noticed since the plastic bag ban, there's more garbage found in our streets and in our playgrounds."

McGrath said he has no intention of doing anything about the ban.

"I think we have way more issues in Fort McMurray, Alta., to deal with," he said.

"I think the plastic bag ban has had its day and I believe our community needs to band together and think about how we can make life better for people that are living here and how we can make life better for people who want to move here."

In 2014, Mellisa Lewis, a grocery-store check-out clerk in Fort McMurray, started an online petition to legalize the bags. She got about 900 signatures, but the ban was never rescinded. 

In the meantime, Karp said his stash of plastic bags has run out and he's looking for another supplier. 


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