Single-use plastic bags all but disappear from P.E.I.'s waste system in 1st year of ban

One year after Prince Edward Island became the first province to ban single-use plastic bags, the Island has managed to keep approximately 15 to 16 million plastic bags from entering its waste management system.

15-16 million fewer bags in P.E.I's waste system in 1st year of ban

The Plastic Bag Reduction Act came into effect July 1, 2019, and has since reduced the number of single-use plastic bags in recycling and waste down to almost zero. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

One year after Prince Edward Island became the first province to ban single-use plastic bags, the Island has managed to keep millions of them from entering its waste management system. 

The province implemented the Plastic Bag Reduction Act on July 1, 2019. Since then, businesses have been prohibited from offering single-use plastic bags at the checkout. 

Before the ban, the Island saw between 15 and 16 million plastic bags collected by Island Waste Management Corporation (IWMC) every year. 

"We would ship probably in the vicinity of a tractor-trailer load of that material probably every two to three weeks," said CEO Gerry Moore. 

"That's been totally … eliminated."

Island Waste Management Corporation now sees only the occasional plastic grocery bag coming through its facilities. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Although the single-use plastic bags are recyclable, it had been increasingly difficult for IWMC to find any recycling market for the bags. 

They had been used as fuel for heating and cooling some public buildings in Charlottetown.

No paper bag problems

The Plastic Bag Reduction Act requires retailers to charge a minimum of 15 cents for replacement bags, often paper or reusable plastic. 

Moore said he had expected to see a spike in the number of paper bags in the recycling system, but that didn't happen.

"We really didn't see that," said Moore. "There was a surcharge on the paper bags and that was a little bit of a deterrent or a friendly reminder to take your reusable carry-out bags."

With the onset of COVID-19 restrictions in April, the province rolled back some of the measures, allowing retailers to waive the fee for paper bags if they choose. Some businesses had been worried about the cleanliness of reusable shopping bags. 

Copy-cat programs

The Island's plastic bag ban seemed to spur other provinces. Newfoundland and Labrador's ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect this year. 

It's been seamless.— Jim Cormier, Retail Council of Canada

In addition, the federal government is moving toward a ban on all single-use plastics in 2021

"We were one of the first to do that," said Moore. "And it came with a lot of other provinces looking to see how we got along and kind of picking our brains, if you will, to see how they could implement such a program."

'Seamless' transition for retailers 

Retailers have embraced the change, according to Jim Cormier, Atlantic director for the Retail Council of Canada. Businesses were given a year to prepare for the change and use up their stock of plastic bags. 

"It's been seamless," said Cormier. 

"It's a good example of what can happen if government actually takes the time to consult, but also takes the time to give some lead time before implementing one of their initiatives."

Two paper bags sit on the floor
The LCBO's decision to not hand out paper bags goes against the shift to replace single-use plastics with wood and paper products. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Cormier said many retailers had already started moving away from single-use plastic bags, and customers have gotten on board. 

"For the most part they've heard nothing but good things from the general public," said Cormier. 

In an email, a representative for the Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change echoed that sentiment, calling the response from Islanders, "fantastic."

Businesses caught breaching the act could be fined up to $10,000 and individuals could be fined $500. 

But in the first year since implementing the act, no fines have been issued. 

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