Plastic bag bans that were put on hold due to COVID-19 are now heading back into stores.
Sobeys Inc. put up signs in Manitoba Safeway stores last week saying plastic bags would no longer be available starting May 5.
A spokesperson said this would continue throughout the rest of Canada as the year goes on.
“Sobeys Inc. banner stores across Canada are on our way to eliminating single-use plastic checkout bags this year,” said the spokesperson.
Sobeys was the first national grocer to stop offering single-use plastic bags January 2020, they said. While Safeway was planning on doing the same thing, that stalled when the pandemic hit.
Sobeys Inc. owns the Sobeys, FreshCo, Safeway and some IGA brands.
“Our discount banner, FreshCo became the first discount grocer to eliminate plastic bags nationally last month. Our IGA stores in Quebec eliminated single-use plastic checkout bags in October.
“Additionally, all our banners in Atlantic Canada were transitioned to be plastic-checkout bag free ahead of various provincial legislations.”
Walmart told Global News that it will also be eliminating plastic bags eventually, and has started charging consumers for their bags once again.
“Walmart Canada has committed to reducing check-out plastic bags by a further 50 per cent by 2025, taking approximately 1 billion bags out of circulation over that period,” said a spokesperson.
“We currently charge a $0.05 user fee for single use plastic bags in stores nationally in an effort to encourage customers to use alternatives and reduce use.”
Global News reached out to Loblaw’s Inc. for comment but did not hear back by publication time.
Grocers versus health care
Plastic bag and single-use plastic bans were in place in several municipalities across Canada when the pandemic hit Canadian shores.
Fears of possible transmission in the early days of the pandemic saw many businesses shy away from reusable bags and containers, falling back to traditional disposables.
For example, the City of Vancouver instituted a plastic bag ban in January of 2020, only to have B.C.’s provincial health officer Bonnie Henry urge stores to resume handing out single-use bags two weeks later.
In Manitoba, a bill went before the legislature to ban plastic bags and straws by Jan. 1, 2021, and then ban more single-use plastics by 2025.
That bill was put on hold and it’s unknown when it will resume.
A spokesperson for the province said the department of Conservation and climate is “continuing to explore options under its existing framework” to bring the ban back in.
A report last year by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia showed while the percentage of Canadian shoppers actively shopping for non-plastic packaging remained essentially the same, there was a small decline in concern about the environmental impact of plastics, as well as a notable increase in the number of people who said they were buying more single-use plastics during the pandemic.
The institute’s Dr. Sylvain Charlebois told 680 CJOB in August that people’s opinions on the importance of plastic have changed drastically since the pandemic began.
“Last year everyone was talking about plastics, it was the enemy … and it took the food industry by surprise. Overwhelmingly, Canadians wanted plastics to disappear, essentially,” he said.
“You could see there was momentum — up until March, when everything changed. It was about survival, it was about keeping safe. It was about making sure our food was safe.”
While there’s little indication that COVID-19 is highly transmissible through plastic bag use, the province says retail clerks should not handle reusable bags, just the store’s plastic bags.
“Customers who bring their own containers or bags need to pack their own purchases,” says the provincial coronavirus website.
That means customers will be packing their own groceries for the time being.
-With files from Simon Little and Sam Thompson