Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's plastic bag ban starts today. Here's what you should know

The era of the plastic shopping bag has come to a close in Nova Scotia, as a provincewide ban comes into effect.

N.S. becomes the 3rd province in Canada to enact the ban

So long, plastic bags. Nova Scotia's ban on most single-use plastic bags is officially in effect. (Mark Baker/The Canadian Press)

The era of the plastic shopping bag has come to a close in Nova Scotia.

A provincewide ban that came into effect Friday means businesses can no longer provide single-use plastic bags at the checkout, so customers should get in the habit of carrying reusable bags.

CBC Radio's Information Morning spoke with Kirk Symonds of the Halifax Regional Municipality's solid waste resources department about the change. Here's what you need to know: 

Q: Why is this ban happening now?

Nova Scotia passed the Plastic Bags Reduction Act this time last year. Politicians said they wanted to give retailers and the public time to prepare.

Grocery chains like Sobeys have already transitioned to paper and reusable bags, but the ban applies to all businesses — not just grocery stores.

The province says the ban is to encourage waste reduction at the source, and help keep plastic out of the environment and landfills.

Q: Will there be any plastic bags left anywhere?

Yes. The province has outlined 13 examples of exemptions to the ban where plastic bags are still accepted. These include bags for loose bulk items like fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains or candy, and food or baked goods that aren't prepackaged.

Products that can't fit in a reusable bag are also on the list, as are bags used to transport dry cleaning, flyers and mail, and packaged liquids that might leak.

Symonds says there will still be "lots of plastic bags" in people's lives, but the idea is to cut down as much as possible.

For a full list of the exceptions click here.

Q: What am I going to use instead?

The easiest answer is to grab some reusable shopping bags, says Symonds.

Some businesses might offer reusable or paper bags to their customers, but it is not a requirement. They can also decide whether to charge a fee for bags they provide and what they do with that money.

The province says shoppers won't spot any bags made from biodegradable or compostable plastic. Businesses aren't allowed to offer these since they contaminate recycling streams and don't decompose properly in compost facilities.

Picture of a reusuable bag being carried by a woman.
Reusable shopping bags are suggested as the best and most environmentally friendly alternative now that Nova Scotia has banned most single-use plastic bags. (Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock)

Q: What will I line my garbage cans with now?

For years, many Nova Scotians have had a stash of plastic shopping bags used to line small garbage cans around the house.

Although those plastic bags won't be around going forward, Symonds says some people might decide they don't need to line every bin. 

"I'm intimately familiar with what folks throw out. Garbage is not as messy as it used to be now that we compost most of our food," he says.

For those who still want to use plastic bags, Symonds says they can always buy packages of bags designed to fit their garbage cans. 

Q: What if businesses still have plastic shopping bags they can't give out?

The province says businesses can recycle the bags, sell them, or ship them to another business location in a province without a plastic bag ban. 

They can also donate them to a charity, like a food bank, that can still use plastic bags when serving clients.

Q: What about household garbage bags? Are they still allowed?

Yes. Symonds says Nova Scotians' plastic garbage and recycling bags have not changed.

Q: What is the rest of the country doing?

The federal government has said single-use plastic items like grocery bags, straws and cutlery will be covered by a national ban coming into effect next year. 

The regulations to introduce the ban will be finalized by the end of 2021.

P.E.I. was the first in the country to ban plastic shopping bags last year. They were followed this month by Newfoundland and Labrador.

With files from Information Morning