Montreal has officially banned single-use plastic bags — but heavy-duty bags are OK

The grocery chain IGA is now selling plastic bags for 15 cents. They're thicker and sturdier than the old, single-use bags, and the city councillor in charge of environment issues says they're more likely to be reused and recycled.

Grocer IGA sells its new, thicker plastic bags for 15 cents

Stores have a six-month grace period before fines kick in on June 5, World Environment Day. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

At least one major Quebec grocer, IGA, is still packing Montreal customers' purchases in plastic bags — for a price.

That's despite the fact that on New Year's Day, Montreal became the first major Canadian city to ban retailers from using single-use plastic bags.

The new bylaw targets the thin, single-use plastic bags usually used by grocery stores. 

It does allow for the very thin, clear plastic bags used to carry produce and deli meats to the cash register.

It also allows stores to sell or give away bags that are thicker than 0.05 millimetres.

Those heavy-duty bags are the ones that IGA is now selling customers who don't bring their own bags and who don't want to buy another reusable alternative, at a cost to the customer of 15 cents per bag.

Reuse, recycling the goal

The city says these thicker bags are less likely to fly away and become abandoned waste.

"We don't want to see this bag in nature," said Jean-François Parenteau, the Montreal executive committee member in charge of environment and citizen services. 

The new bylaw targets thin, single-use plastic bags usually used in grocery stores. (CBC)

Parenteau said the thicker bag is more likely to be reused and recycled.

He added that the problem with most bags is that they're too light, and only 14 per cent are recycled.

Thicker bags mean more emissions

Although the IGA bags meet the city's regulations, environmental groups such as Équiterre question whether they should be used.

"For every bag that we produce, there are emissions," said Sydney Ribaux, Équiterre's co-founder and executive director. The thicker the plastic, the more resources required to manufacture the bag, he said.

"When you add it up, with the quantity of bags we're using, there is an impact."

Despite that concern, Ribaux said the single-use, thin-plastic bag ban is a move in the right direction.

He said he thinks IGA's decision to charge 15 cents per bag, compared to five cents for the old, thinner plastic bags, is also a good choice.

"When we have a product like that, that we want to get rid of, a price signal is a great way for consumers to understand," Ribaux said.

He said the ban creates an opportunity for businesses to offer alternatives to consumers.

"Hopefully, other options will come out of these kinds of bans, and businesses will innovate and develop materials that are actually really compostable," he said.

IGA was unavailable for comment on its bag policy until later in the week.

The City of Montreal is granting all stores a six-month grace period before fines will kick in, on June 5, World Environment Day. 

With files from Matt D'Amours


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