Sobeys Inc. grocery stores will phase out plastic bags by February 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Sobeys Inc. grocery stores will phase out plastic bags by February 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Sobeys to remove plastic bags from all stores next year as grocers go green

Shoppers at Sobeys Inc. grocery stores will soon need to bring their own totes or lug their purchases home in paper bags as the chain moves to phase out plastic bags by February 2020.

Canadians go through hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores each year, and the chains — most of which charge a nominal fee for plastic bags —are facing pressure from increasingly eco-conscious consumers to do more to eliminate their plastic-centric packaging.

Sobeys said it is making the move to phase out plastic bags as a response to calls from customers and employees to use less plastic. The retailer also committed to launch programs to reduce plastic in other areas of the stores.

“We really felt that the amount of avoidable plastic in grocery stores is shocking,” said Vittoria Varalli, the company’s vice-president of sustainability. The change will eliminate 225 million bags used annually at Sobeys 255 stores.

The company, which is owned by Stellarton, N.S.-based Empire Co. Ltd, will phase out plastic bags and introduce paper bags at its other banners soon after. Sobeys also operates Safeway, Thrifty Foods, IGA, Foodland, Freshco and Farm Boy. It boasts more than 1,500 stores across all its chains.

“The ultimate goal,” said Varalli, is to eliminate plastic bags from the produce aisle as well. It plans to introduce a line of reusable mesh alternatives made from recycled bottles in August.

Food companies have been on a mission to reduce plastic from their operations recently as consumers push for more sustainable practices. Some are taking initiatives to change ahead of the federal government’s announced ban on single-use plastics by 2021, which would force them to find non-plastic alternatives.

Last year, restaurants responded to pressure to eliminate plastic straws after a video showing someone removing a straw stuck up a turtle’s nose went viral.

Starbucks, A&W and other chains made promises to remove the item from their eateries, and some have already done so.

But the trend toward sustainability didn’t stop at straws. Many fast-food giants started experimenting with other green packaging. In June, McDonald’s Canada announced it would test wooden cutlery and other recycling-friendly containers at two restaurants.

“I think they’re trying to respond to popular concern,” said Vito Buonsante, plastics program manager at the advocacy organization Environmental Defence, of grocers’ efforts to reduce plastic waste by targeting plastic bags.

In coastal regions, plastic bags create a major environmental problem, he said, where they persist for a long time and harm wildlife.

Despite the fact that Canadians use about 2.86 billion plastic bags a year, Buonsante sees them as “low-hanging fruit” that people easily can do without.

Grocery stores are slowly starting to get on board with the push to eliminate single-use plastics.

Metro Inc. announced earlier this year it would start allowing consumers to use reusable containers to store fresh products, such as those from the deli and pastry counters, at its Quebec stores.

In May, the company committed to cut its use of single-use plastic bags in half by the end of its 2023 financial year. It also said it wants to reduce the amount of produce bags used by 10 per cent by the end of its 2020 financial year.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., meanwhile, started charging five cents per plastic bag about a decade ago and reduced the number of plastic bags used in its stores by nearly 12 billion, wrote spokesperson Catherine Thomas in an email.

It has donated $10 million to the World Wildlife Fund with some of the proceeds as of the end of 2018. Thomas declined to provide the total amount the company has made by charging for plastic bags.

Meanwhile, customers seeking greener grocery pastures have given rise to niche no-waste markets across Canada.

“Change is kind of happening,” said Buonsante, but — for the most part — these initiatives are limited in effectiveness.

A five-cent bag fee is not a strong deterrent, he said, and companies should create incentives to help shoppers shift their habits.

Governments around the world have started to crack down on single-use plastics to force companies into change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June that his government is starting the regulatory work to ban toxic single-use plastics because the garbage infiltrating the world’s waterways is out of hand.

Nothing is going to be banned overnight, with the process to implement a federal ban or limitations on a product under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act usually taking two to four years. The goal is to make decisions on everything on the list by 2021.

Trudeau said Canada’s plan will “closely mirror” that of Europe. In March, the European Parliament agreed that by 2021 the European Union will ban almost a dozen single-use products including plastic plates, cutlery, cups, straws, plastic sticks in cotton swabs, balloon sticks and stir sticks, and Styrofoam cups and take-out food containers. Oxo-degradeable plastics including plastic grocery bags, which break down into tiny pieces with exposure to air but never fully disappear, are also to be banned.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A recent investigation by the RCMP Central Alberta District Crime Reduction Unit led to the arrests of 24 people. (Contributed photo)
24 people arrested following RCMP investigation in central Alberta

Twenty-four people are facing a combined 235 charges following an investigation by… Continue reading

Alberta’s Chief Medicial Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragice milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

Photo from Town of Sylvan Lake Facebook page
Sylvan Lake communities band together on development plan

Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan expected to be approved next spring

Tribe restaurant owner Paul Harris, left, consults with manager Brandon Bouchard about how to proceed under pandemic rules that make it hard for eateries to be profitable. (Contributed photo).
New pandemic rules deemed workable for Red Deer retailers

Stricter COVID-19 reduction measures introduced in lead-up to Christmas

Quentin Lee Strawberry
Man accused in 2019 Red Deer murder will stay behind bars

Quentin Strawberry going to trial next year on second-degree murder charge

RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu speaks about a seizure of illegal drugs, cash and a firearm during a news conference in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. The B.C. Coroners Service says its latest data on illicit drug toxicity deaths show five people are dying every day in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Five people dying every day from toxic illicit drugs in B.C.: Coroner

Five people dying every day from toxic illicit drugs in B.C.: Coroner

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at B.C. campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Heidi Illingworth, federal ombudsman for victims of crime, takes part in an interview at her office in Ottawa on January 10, 2019. Canada's watchdog for crime victims is calling on Parliament to overhaul the victims' bill of rights, saying the five-year-old legislation has fallen "far short" of delivering on its promise. Federal ombudsman Heidi Illingworth says in a report that rules meant to amplify victims' voices in the justice system have failed to make them heard following "sporadic" implementation of a regime that needs more teeth, clarity and public awareness. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal watchdog says victims-rights regime needs overhaul after falling ‘far short’

Federal watchdog says victims-rights regime needs overhaul after falling ‘far short’

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. His department would likely take the lead in creating a federally funded child-care system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals to unveil first step on child-care plan in economic update, sources say

Liberals to unveil first step on child-care plan in economic update, sources say

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Around 1,300 national exemptions to COVID-19 border restrictions given out: officials

Around 1,300 national exemptions to COVID-19 border restrictions given out: officials

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Blanchet is blasting the prime minister's response to the pandemic, saying Justin Trudeau's pledge that vaccines will start to arrive in the coming months is 'unacceptable.' THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Covid-19 Rapid Test Device kits at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday November 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Tam urges collective effort, Ontarians told to celebrate holidays at home

Tam urges collective effort, Ontarians told to celebrate holidays at home

Most Read