Businesses mull effects of plastic-bag ban

Toronto's decision to ban single-use plastic shopping bags has businesses — including plastic and paper manufacturers — trying to figure out what it will mean for their bottom line.

Toronto's decision to ban single-use plastic shopping bags has businesses — including plastic and paper manufacturers — trying to figure out what it will mean for their bottom line.

At Atlas Paper in Scarborough, their machines are constantly humming, churning out two million paper bags a day for clients including Sobeys, Metro, and Tim Hortons.

Owner Charlie Provvidenza said he expects his business to get even busier.

"It's going to increase our bottom line again, and it's going to increase productivity," he said. "Also, we're going to be employing more people."

He expects big grocers to stick with reusable bags, but smaller stores and clothing retailers would likely go with paper.

"Our jobs are going to grow, which we lost in the early '70s, but it's going to grow a little bit more because, of course, the volumes have to go up," he said.

Provvidenza said the plastic industry will have to adapt, just as he had to back in the 1970s when plastic first took over.

That would be cold comfort at the Retail Bag Company, where David Clarance worries about losing 40 per cent of his sales. He said the city should have consulted the industry.

"It's not giving the industry a lot of time to adapt and make changes and, you know, adjust their inventories," he said.

Clarance said reusable plastic bags don't help the Canadian economy.

"The reusable bags are made in China, so there's more offshore jobs going to China and less people working in Canada," he said.

'I don't want to do it'

Grocery store manager Mario Masellis said he believes banning plastic outright goes too far.

Grocery store manager Mario Masellis believes banning plastic bags outright in Toronto is a mistake. (CBC)

He said a typical plastic bag costs retailers one cent, while a paper bag costs four cents — a difference that he said will add up to thousands of dollars. 

Masellis doubts whether retailers will comply.

"I don't want to do it," he said. "There are a lot of expenses that retailers have anyway. This would be just an added expense."

However, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario said it has actually made money since it began phasing out plastic bags in 2008. They've kept 80 million plastic bags a year out of the landfill and, through reusable bag sales, made nearly $1 million.

Meanwhile, the Recycling Council of Ontario said the environment is the big winner, with about 215 million fewer bags in the system — about 1,400 tonnes.

"Environmentally, you won't see them in the streets, you're not going to see them in the waterways, you won't see them in the parks, and you certainly won't see them in the waste stream either," said executive director Jo-Anne St. Godard.

With files from Steven D'Souza and Jeff Semple