Keep your reusable bags handy, as Montreal begins enforcing ban on plastic bags

The City of Montreal barred merchants from handing out single-use plastic bags as of Jan.1 but gave them until June 5 to make the transition. After today, it can fine businesses up to $4,000 if they're caught flouting the rules.

After June 5, city can fine businesses up to $4K if they're caught handing out single-use plastic bags

To comply with the city's ban on single-use plastic bags, Paulo Raimundo, the owner of a grocery store in the Plateau, now offers his customers reusable canvas bags and thicker plastic bags. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

Paulo Raimundo spent the last six months telling his customers that a change was coming.

As the City of Montreal's grace period for businesses to ease into a ban on single-use plastic bags ends after today — World Environment Day — the grocery store owner says he and his shoppers are ready.

"I think a lot of them have put that into their mindset," said Raimundo, who owns La Vieille Europe in the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood.

"We've given away a lot less bags in the last few months, compared to previous months before that," he told CBC News.

The City of Montreal barred stores from handing out single-use plastic bags as of Jan. 1, but gave them until June 5 to make the complete transition.

The bylaw, adopted in August 2016, prohibits merchants from giving customers bags that are thinner than 50 microns (or 0.05 millimitres).

It also bans all types of oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable, oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable bags.

Customers already moving away from plastic

Raimundo began selling thicker plastic bags in his store on June 1, a few days before the grace period expired, for 15 cents each.

He also sells reusable canvas bags for $3, or gives them away for free on purchases of $50 or more.

Most of his customers already bring in their own reusable bags though, Raimundo said, and he expects that will continue in the weeks and months to come.

"I want to do something for the environment, and if getting away from plastic is what we have to do, then I want to be part of it," he said.

The city's ban on single-use plastic bags came into force Jan. 1, but it gave merchants a six-month grace period to make the transition. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

That was echoed by shopper Stephen Spiegel, who says he prefers reusable bags.

"It's better for the environment. It's better for our own costs; it's much better all around," he said.

So, how much will flouting the rules cost you?

The bylaw allows the city to levy hefty fines against businesses caught contravening the rule.

On a first offence, individual retailers can receive a fine between $200 and $1,000, and subsequent offences will cost them from $300 to $2,000.

A larger corporation that's caught breaking the rules can be fined even more, from $400 to $4,000.

City employees can inspect any retail store across Montreal to make sure it's complying with the ban, the bylaw reads.

Anyone that interferes with those inspections can also be found to be violating the new rules.

The best bag

Sidney Ribaux, executive director and co-founder of ecological group Équiterre, says the ban is a step in the right direction.

But replacing one kind of bag with another isn't the best solution, he said. The very thin bags fly away easily, but the thicker bags are made with four to six times more plastic.

Even with a cotton bag, there's an impact when it comes to making it and eventually getting rid of it

"Whatever we do, whatever we use, there is an environmental impact, he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

So which is the best bag? The bag you don't use, Ribaux said.

But if you must use one, bags made of nylon have the smallest environmental impact. 

And if you forget your bag one day and have to shell out for one of the thicker plastic bags, reuse it. The more often you use anything, the smaller the environmental impact will be, Ribaux explained.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that customers would face fines for violating the bylaw. In fact, the bylaw applies only to individual merchants and corporations, not individual customers.
    Jun 05, 2018 11:14 AM ET

With files from CBC's Antoni Nerestant and CBC Montreal's Daybreak