Sobeys eliminates plastic grocery bags as a first step in reducing plastic waste

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Photo by Darien Funk

As of Jan. 31, popular grocery chain Sobeys has discontinued the use of plastic grocery bags in its 255 Canadian stores, making them the first national grocery chain in Canada to do so.

Sobeys Inc. announced their plan to eliminate the use of plastic grocery bags on July 31, 2019, and have followed through with their goal, meeting the January 2020 deadline which they had set for themselves.

This move is estimated to reduce the amount of plastic grocery bags in circulation across Canada by 225 million per year, helping to reduce the massive amount of harmful plastic waste produced by Canada.

Locally in Waterloo, the changes have been well received by customers and store managers were pleasantly surprised by the lack of backlash.

“[We have had] no backlash at all whatsoever, which we were kind of shocked and surprised at,” said Rob Kerr, store manager at the Sobeys Bridgeport location in Waterloo.

“We actually had people calling us the day before to ensure that we were actually going to follow through with it, and they were very happy and pleased to see that we did.”

Following this first step to reduce the use of unnecessary retail plastic, Sobeys Inc. will begin working towards phasing out the use of plastic grocery bags in other banners, such as FreshCo, Foodland, IGA and Farm Boy, and replacing them with paper bags.

[We have had] no backlash at all whatsoever, which we were kind of shocked and surprised at.

– Rob Kerr, store manager at the Sobeys Bridgeport location in Waterloo.

“So many of our customers and our employees have told us loud and clear — they want us to use less plastic — and we agree with them,” said Michael Medline, President and CEO, Empire Company Limited in a press release.

“This is a first step, and we plan to make meaningful progress every year to take plastic out of our stores and our products. We decided to act now instead of taking years to study and only make long-term commitments. We’re taking action now, making a tangible difference today and into the future. This is a significant first step, but it’s only a first step. We need to go further, and we will.”

Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags when grocery shopping, and they will be available for purchase at the Sobeys checkout. Paper bags can be purchased for 10 cents each, small reusable bags for 25 cents and large reusable bags for 99 cents.

In the future, Sobeys plans to make more changes in order to reduce plastic waste in other areas of the store, such as introducing reusable produce bags made from recycled water bottles.

At select locations in Quebec, Sobeys banner IGA has launched a reusable container pilot program where customers can bring in their own reusable containers when purchasing products from the fresh food area or deli, as well as a program to incentivize the use of reusable bags when shopping.

Some of these incentives include designated parking spots for customers with reusable bags, rentable reusable bags and promotional offers.

Depending on the success of these pilots, implementation of policies in alignment with these programs could be the next step to increase sustainability and waste reduction in Sobeys Inc. stores across Canada.

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