Nova Scotia

Sobeys aims to scrap plastic bags from all stores in 2020

Sobeys plans to remove plastic bags from all its grocery stores in Canada by the end of January 2020.

Move would take 225 million plastic grocery bags out of circulation each year in Canada, company says

Sobeys is aiming to remove all plastic bags from its stores by the end of January 2020. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Sobeys plans to remove plastic bags from all its grocery stores in Canada by the end of January 2020.

The company, headquartered in Stellarton, N.S., said in a news release it's the first national grocery store to eliminate plastic bags.

Sobeys called it the first step in "removing unnecessary plastic from all retail." 

The chain said removing the bags from its 255 locations will take 225 million plastic grocery bags out of circulation each year. The move to phase out plastic bags includes other stores within the Sobeys group, including FreshCo, Safeway, Foodland, IGA and Rachelle Béry locations, which would eventually take over 800 million plastic bags out of circulation, said director of support services Dave Sobey .

"This is a sustainability initiative," Sobey told CBC's Maritime Noon. "Our customers and our employees have been asking for this for some time.

"At the end of the day, our customers understand the impact to the environment. And we know we need to do more to improve sustainability and helping our environment."

Sobeys said any added cost of moving away from plastic bags won't bump up the price of groceries. 

The company said paper bags will be made available, but it hopes customers will bring reusable bags.

The grocer plans to adopt other methods to phase out plastic in stores. In August, Sobeys will bring in mesh produce bags made from recycled water bottles. The bags were first launched at IGAs in Quebec in June.

"This is a first step, and we plan to make meaningful progress every year to take plastic out of our stores and our products," Michael Medline, president and CEO of the chain's parent, Empire Company Limited, said in the release.

Jim Cormier, the Atlantic region director of the Retail Council of Canada, said, "there's an environmental footprint involved in everything." However, he added that paper bags can be recycled or composted after use. 

"The polypropylene bags, they're seen as a good alternative, because they can be used hundreds of times, thousands of times. But yet they are made out of plastic product."

Banned in P.E.I.

Cormier said other companies will likely start following suit to get ahead of any further government legislation.

On Canada Day, for instance, Prince Edward Island's ban on plastic bags took effect.

P.E.I. is the first province to ban single-use plastic bags.

"In the retail sector where competition is so fierce, they will do almost anything to ensure that they're responding to the demands of their customers and to service the customer," said Cormier. 

Mark Butler, the Ecology Action Centre's policy director, commended Sobeys for showing leadership. 

"We hope this sends a signal to the province and the federal government that they need to act too," said Butler. 

"We'd like to see plastics listed as a toxic in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act."

In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will ban single use plastics, which could include bags, straws and cutlery, in Canada in 2021 at the earliest.

Whole Foods, a U.S.-based retailer with locations in Ontario and British Columbia, eliminated plastic bags at its checkouts in 2008, and announced earlier this year a plan to reduce plastic including getting rid of plastic straws and shifting to smaller plastic produce bags. 

Loblaw Companies Limited, owner of grocery stores like Atlantic Superstore, Wholesale Club and No Frills, has also taken steps to reduce its use of plastic bags.

In 2009, its stores moved to a pay-for-a-bag approach and a company spokesperson told CBC News the company has eliminated nearly 12 billion plastic bags from its stores. Some Loblaw stores don't charge for plastic bags, however.

Some of its individual stores have removed plastic bags entirely. The Atlantic Superstore location on Quinpool Road in Halifax, for example, removed plastic bags in 2008.

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With files from Brett Ruskin and Maritime Noon

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