Montreal urged to ban automatic distribution of Publisacs

If Montreal’s city council follows the advice of its environment committee and bans the automatic distribution of bags stuffed with flyers, it will be following the lead of the off-island municipality of Mirabel, which has made it illegal to deliver bags of flyers without residents' consent.

City's environment committee says residents should have to opt for bags stuffed with flyers, not opt out

While many Quebecers opt out of the weekly distribution of flyer-stuffed bags, the signs they affix to their mailboxes are sometimes ignored, some complain. (Dominic Brassard/Radio-Canada)

Montreal should ban the automatic distribution of plastic bags stuffed with flyers, coupons and weekly newspapers, the city's environment committee says.

Instead, flyer-stuffed bags, commonly referred to by their local brand name, Publisac, should only be delivered to residents who opt to receive them.

Among the 10 recommendations released Thursday, the committee calls for a ban on the use of the plastic bags themselves. It says the bags should be recyclable, even if the flyers inside are not removed. 

"This is great," said Charles Montpetit, the Rosement resident who sounded the alarm more than a year ago over what he calls an "ecological disaster."

Montpetit is wary of celebrating prematurely, knowing the committee's recommendations are not binding on council.

"I don't think the city can possibly say 'no' to this," he said.

Montpetit said he is not calling on an outright ban on the bags of flyers.

"Everybody who wants the bag, who wants the flyers, will still be able to get them," he said. "There's no reason to be afraid of this movement. You can like the Publisac and still agree with our recommendations."

Consultations spurred by petition

The environment committee hosted a public consultation before making its recommendations.

The consultation was spurred by a petition signed by more than 15,000 Montrealers, submitted to the city in June. It calls for bags stuffed with flyers to be delivered to consenting residents only and for a ban on the bags used to bundle them.

Charles Montpetit has been calling for a bylaw that would require Montrealers to opt for flyer delivery, rather than opt out. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC Montreal)

Montreal has prohibited retailers from using single-use plastic bags since 2018, but that ban does not apply to the flyer-stuffed bags.

According to the city's environmental department, roughly 800,000 Publisacs are distributed on the island of Montreal every week.

Some of the committee's recommendations include: 

  • Delay implementation of the ban until a new mode of distribution is established.
  • Adopt measures to assure compliance, such as fines for distributors who violate the ban.
  • Ask the federal government to adopt a similar flyer-distribution policy for Canada Post.
  • Support the development of alternative means of distributing local newspapers.
  • Enhance public library services to help vulnerable people improve digital literacy.

Montreal will take "the necessary time" before making a decision, the city said in a statement on Thursday. 

Until then, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante commended those citizens who spearheaded the petition.

"The desire to protect our environment and reduce our ecological footprint is driving a large section of the Montreal population," she says in the statement.

Transcontinental challenges Mirabel's Publisac ban

If Montreal's city council bans the automatic distribution of Publisacs, it wouldn't be the first Quebec municipality to do so.

The off-island suburb of Mirabel, Que., made it illegal to deliver flyer-stuffed bags to homes without consent earlier this fall.

That means Mirabel residents must affix a sticker to their mailbox if they want flyers, rather than the longstanding tradition of posting a sticker indicating the household does not accept flyers.

Transcontinental, which owns Publisac, is already challenging Mirabel's new bylaw in court.

The company has been working to shift the public perception of its service. It contends nine out of 10 Quebecers read the contents of their Publisac, saving them more than $1,000 annually. 

The flyers are not responsible for killing trees, Transcontinental says, as they are printed on newsprint made from sawmill residue. As for the plastic bags, the company says they are made from recycled material, are recyclable and keep the flyers dry. 

François Olivier, president and CEO of Transcontiental, told Radio-Canada that there are about 200,000 homes in Quebec that have "opt-out" stickers but, with the opt-in regulation, "we would be asked to manage more than three million doors."

"The opt-in would be so complex, it would generate so much costs, that it would mean the end of Publisac," he said.

With files from Antoni Nerestant and Radio-Canada


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