What you need to know about Montreal's plastic bag ban

Montreal's new bylaw banning single-use plastic bags went into effect on New Year's Day, making it the first major Canadian city to put forward such a rule.

Retailers have until June 5 — World Environment Day — to conform to new rules before penalties imposed

Montreal retailers will no longer be able to hand out single-use, plastic bags like these biodegradable ones at P.A. Marché as of Jan. 1, 2018. (CBC)

Montreal's new bylaw banning single-use plastic bags went into effect on New Year's Day, making it the first major Canadian city to put forward such a rule.

Former mayor Denis Coderre's administration passed the bylaw in 2016, and Mayor Valérie Plante is following through on Coderre's commitment.

The city's executive committee member responsible for the environment, Jean-François Parenteau, says retail store owners will have a grace period to adjust to the new bylaw, during which time city officials will meet retailers to help them figure out how to conform to the new way of doing things.
The Montreal executive committee member in charge of environment, Jean-François Parenteau, said Quebecers use two billion plastic bags a year, and the recycling rate is just 14 per cent. (CBC)

After June 5 — World Environment Day — retailers will be subject to penalties if they continue to hand out thin, single-use bags.

Parenteau said it is an easy decision for the environment.

"Quebecers use two billion bags a year, and the recuperation rate is only 14 per cent," he said.

"We can find these bags in the trees, on the South Shore — everywhere in nature."

Biodegradable bags banned, too

The new bylaw bans lightweight plastic shopping bags, specifically ones that are less than 50 microns (or 0.05 millimetres) thick. 

The ban also applies to all types of oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable, oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable bags.

Certain bags, such as small plastic bags used for fresh vegetables or medication, will not be banned for hygienic reasons.
The owner of the P.A. Marché, Taso Erimos, says the local chain is experimenting with a variety of reusable bags, as well as paper bags with handles, to replace the biodegradable plastic bags it now uses. (CBC)

Taso Erimos, the owner of P.A. Marché, a chain of grocery stores that includes the flagship store on Montreal's Park Avenue, said his cashiers dole out more than 1,000 thin bags per day.

"I don't think it's a bad idea eliminating bags. People will probably get used to bringing their own," he said, noting the thin bags cost him two cents each.

Erimos said he's not sure whether his stores will switch to paper or reusable plastic bags. He said staff will be asking customers what they prefer as an alternative.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said Robert Haccoun, a P.A. customer walking out of the store with his groceries stuffed into several thin, green biodegradable bags.

"These things are useful when you're stupid enough to forget your own bag. But you know, we just won't forget it."

Brossard shows how it's done

Montrealers don't have to go far to know how the ban might work.

People living across the St. Lawrence River in Brossard have been doing without plastic bags since 2016.
Brossard resident Mizan Chowdhury said getting used to bringing his own bags to the grocery store since his city banned single-use plastic bags in 2016 hasn't been a problem. (CBC)

While carting out a few items from his local grocery store, Mizan Chowdhury said he is happy about the ban.

"It's making people more aware of the environmental impact that plastic bags have, so it's a good idea," he said.
The head of urban planning in Brossard, Éric Boutet, said the single-use plastic bag ban in his community has been so successful, not one merchant has been fined for failing to comply. (CBC)

Chowdhury said adjusting to the new reality was easy.

"I think some people would take it as a negative at first, but they'll get used to it."

Brossard's director of urban planning, Éric Boutet, said the municipality has seen a 96 per cent compliance rate since the bylaw was enacted, and city inspectors have yet to hand out any fines.

"Merchants want to respect the clients' needs and requests, and the pressure came from the clients who were in favour of the bylaw," said Boutet, describing how retailers jumped on the bandwagon.

"They wanted to keep a positive corporate image."

Not everyone on board

Individual Montreal retailers who fail to adhere to the bylaw will face fines ranging from $200 to $1,000 for a first infraction and $300 to $2,000 for any subsequent ones.

For companies, those fines range from $400 to $4,000.

The group representing store owners said merchants have been adjusting to the new reality for years.

"Our preference would have been for no regulation," said Jean-Luc Benoît, a spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada.

I got bags everywhere, man, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.- Brossard shopper Lino Peretta

"The industry has made lots of effort educating and providing other options, and in the last ten years, the use of plastic bags has dropped fifty per cent," he said of the shift in Quebec.

Benoit said his group has been sending out weekly reminders of the new bylaw to its members, and he said most have come up with a variety of options for shoppers who come into their stores without bags.
Lino Peretta, shopping at the Super C in Brossard, said he still often forgets the reusable bags in the trunk of his car. (CBC)

For Brossard shopper Lino Perretta, the rule is just annoying.

"We all need to do our part, but we got collections of bags all over, so now I don't even bother," he said while buying some new, thicker plastic bags in order to carry his groceries.

Perretta said his trunk was already full of reusable bags, but he forgot to bring them into the store. 

"I got bags everywhere, man, and I'm sure I'm not the only one."

Perretta said he often gets more than one use out of the single-use bags.

"We used to use those bags for the garbage. Now we have to buy plastic garbage bags and for the cat litter, the dog poop. Now we have to buy bags for everything."

Environmental benefits clear

California introduced a state-wide bag ban in 2016, but certain regions of the state got rid of plastic bags as early as 2010.

In an email to the CBC, Melissa Romero with the non-profit group Californians Against Waste said the ban has been a success.

"We calculated that due to both the wave of local ordinances and the statewide bag ban, plastic grocery bag litter has dropped by 72 per cent since 2010 and now accounts for less than 1.5 per cent of items littered," she said.

That's a lot fewer bags blowing in the wind.