A year after Newfoundland and Labrador’s ban on single-use retail plastic bags came into effect, shoppers and businesses have a mixed bag of opinions on the ban.
Since Oct. 1, 2020, the bags have been outlawed at stores and shops, with the exception of plastic bags used for packaging fruit, grains, flowers, live fish and a number of other items.
Prior to the decision, a provincial government consultation found 87 per cent of respondents were in favour of the ban, and since then, most shoppers say they’ve gotten into the routine of carrying reusable bags and using alternatives to plastic.
“I find it a big difference,” says Kim Courage, who would often use her plastic bags for secondary purposes, like bagging up her kids’ wet clothes after swimming.
“And just like, if anything smells,” she said. “So that your garbage isn’t smelly.”
Since the ban, Courage said she’s turned to buying plastic bags.
“We’re trying,” she said. “I mean, we’ve got to go green.”
Ed Evans, chief administrative officer at Central Waste Management (CNWM), says the ban has seen visible results at the Norris Arm landfill where he works.
“We found a very significant reduction in the amount of blow around [at the landfill]” he said.
Before the ban, some 120 million plastic retail bags were used in Newfoundland and Labrador every year, with roughly 96 per cent clogging up landfills, according to the MMSB.
‘A real good decision’
Pierre Pepin says he found plastic retail bags to be “quite useful” for packing messy items around the house, but he’s not sad to see them gone.
“I found that you were getting many more bags than you actually needed for the most part, and they were kind of flimsy and you couldn’t put too much weight in them,” he said.
Pepin’s routine hasn’t been significantly impacted by the ban, and he said there are obvious environmental benefits.
“There’s not as much junk floating around,” he said. “You notice that. So to me, it’s not the end of the world. And in fact, I think it makes it better.”
Switching to reusable bags was “not a real big adjustment,” for Christine Duggan. She says ditching plastic bags was “a real good decision,” despite some inconveniences.
“There are times that you go in and you forget your recyclable bags in the trunk and you’ve got to run out, or you try to carry everything in your arms,” she said.
At home, she and her husband have gotten into the habit of reusing bread bags and other plastic bags for bagging up her homemade bread.
“It’s great for the environment,” said Duggan’s husband, Joe.
“I think it should have been introduced years and years ago.”
‘A little bit more difficult’
But while consumers largely support the bag ban, store operators like Krystle Colbourne, a front end manager at Bidgoods in the St. John’s neighbourhood of Goulds, says she wants the old days back.
“It’s a little bit more difficult, honestly,” she said.
“We’re not packing customers’ groceries anymore, because of COVID. We don’t want to touch their reusable bags, so customers are finding it hard bagging their own groceries.”
Not being able to bag customers’ groceries isn’t the only inconvenience the bag ban brought about.
“Theft comes a lot easier nowadays,” Colbourne said.
“People have the reusable bags, so they’re coming in, they’re putting their things in reusable bags. So it’s hard for us because we’re not sure if they’re actually coming to the cash when they’re leaving, or if they’ve paid for their product.”
Despite those drawbacks, Colbourne said the bag ban has resulted in increased sales for the store.
Prior to the ban, Bidgood’s was paying somewhere between 10 and 15 cents per plastic bag at no cost to the customer.
Now, paper bags are selling for 15 cents each, and reusable bags for anywhere from 35 cents to more than two dollars each.
But the savings aren’t enough to convince Colbourne the bag ban was a win for her store.
“I would absolutely rather have them back,” she said.
“It’s a lot faster. It gets the customer out a lot faster. They don’t have to worry about it.. And of course, again, the cleanliness of it right now with this whole pandemic.”