P.E.I. businesses getting ready to switch out plastic bags

It's going to be a busy weekend for many P.E.I. businesses as they prepare to swap out their plastic checkout bags and that is already presenting some challenges.

'It's old school. We had to go back to retraining them how to pack a big paper bag'

Instead of small boxes of 1,000 plastic bags, the paper bags come in large boxes of 250. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

It's going to be a busy weekend for many P.E.I. businesses as they prepare to swap out their plastic checkout bags.

New rules take effect on July 1, as Prince Edward Island becomes the first province in Canada to ban the single-use bags, under the Plastic Bag Reduction Act.

Buns and Things in Charlottetown uses about 3,000 plastic checkout bags per week.

The bakery has just received its first shipment of paper bags and they are already presenting some challenges.

Bill DeBlois shows the two sizes of paper bags that they will be selling to customers. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"Today's challenge started with when they arrived," said store owner Bill DeBlois. 

"Instead of giving small boxes of 1,000 [plastic bags], we got large boxes of 250. They're quite a bit heavier, so for us the logistics of finding a place to put it at the moment is a challenge."

Space is an issue

DeBlois said they haven't figured out where they are going to store the paper bags, or put them at the checkout.

"Space is always an issue for us, it doesn't matter if it's a bag or anything else," DeBlois said. 

"We're looking at potentially having two different sizes of paper bags given the variety of products that we have here, with varying costs per bag obviously."

Storing the paper bags is going to be a challenge at Buns and Things. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

DeBlois anticipates cost will be an issue for some customers.

"There's going to be some people that ... it might be a bit more of a concern than others," DeBlois said.

"I think back to when we went to our compostable trays, mind you they had no cost to the customer, but the general feedback that we got was extremely positive."

More expensive

DeBlois is still trying to figure out the pricing of the bags, but the larger one is costing him 28 cents per unit.

"A lot will come down to how many paper bags we actually go through," DeBlois said.

"We're not going to go through 3,000 paper bags, it just isn't going to happen."

A sign on the door at Buns and Things reminds customers to bring in their reusable bags. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

But the paper bags, he says, are more expensive than the plastic.

"If it was costing us three cents but we can get our paper bag for, it'll cost us 28 maybe we charge 25 cents," DeBlois said. 

"So that we're all kind of sharing the expense of it. But I think ultimately we're going to be going through less bags so it will allow us a bit of flexibility to work with it that way too."

DeBlois has seen more customers bringing reusable bags to the bakery. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

DeBlois said the store had looked at moving away from plastic checkout bags, but the transition will be easier now that all businesses on P.E.I. have to make the change.

"The first couple of weeks we'll hear about it but everybody will," DeBlois said. 

"I think generally it's going to be well-received and I think this will work out much smoother now that we're all in this situation."

The P.E.I. Environment Department has created a Bring Your Own Bag campaign, to help prepare consumers for the new rules. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

DeBlois said he's already seeing customers who are bringing in their own reusable bags.

"I think anytime you've got less plastic blowing around out there the better," DeBlois said.

"If we're going through 3,000 bags in a week, you cringe to think what other larger retailers are going through and just how many bags are showing up every week out there."

'Anxious to get it going'

Larger retailers on P.E.I. are also preparing for the new rules around plastic checkout bags.

"We've been selling a lot of our Bags for Life, so we have had a lot of interest in those, we do have the totes available too," said Tammy MacPhee, district operator for Sobeys on P.E.I., which also includes Foodland and Co-op stores.

"There's been a little bit of buzz around, not a whole lot of questions because I think they're pretty well-informed. Everyone is just anxious to get it going."

MacPhee said the grocery chain will be in total compliance of the new act, as of July 1, getting rid of their entire stockpile of plastic bags.

Environment Minister Brad Trivers hands out free reusable bags to customers at Sobeys. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"We will not have single-use register bags available anymore, anything that we have left over within stores we'll be shipping back to our supplier and then they will be redistributed to Sobeys stores across other provinces," MacPhee said.

"We want to show the government our support for this plastic bag ban."

Islanders may have heard about the upcoming changes, but MacPhee said the stores are working hard to alert visitors to the Island.

P.E.I. businesses have until the end of the year to use up their supply of plastic checkout bags, but Sobeys has decided to get rid of them entirely. Their stockpile will be sent to stores in other provinces. (Ken Linton/CBC)

"We're a little concerned with our tourists arriving, as we're open July 1," MacPhee said.

"We are a little bit worried about that, so with our signage throughout our cart corrals and throughout our stores I feel that we will have them well-informed."

She said tourists will also quickly learn that the ban on plastic checkout bags is province-wide.

Sobeys has put signage throughout the store and in the parking lot to alert customers to the changes. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Still some plastic bags

Plastic bags will not be eliminated entirely at Island grocery stores. 

There are exemptions, under the Plastic Bag Reduction Act, for small plastic bags for produce, meat, deli and fish.

MacPhee said Sobeys is currently doing a pilot in Quebec where customers can bring in clean, recyclable containers from home to have their meat, fish and deli items packed in, something she hopes will also come soon to P.E.I.

Cashiers have been trained to use the paper bags, going 'old school.' (Ken Linton/CBC)

The stores have also been training front-line staff on how to use the new bags.

"It's old school," MacPhee said. "We had to go back to retraining them how to pack a big paper bag."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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