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VIDEO: How Sobeys plans to replace plastic bags using paper and recycled water bottles


The Kleenex of shopping bags is being kicked to the curb.

In this part of the world, whether toting groceries or garbage, any plastic shopping bag is likely to be referred to as a Sobeys bag, whether it’s from that store or not.

“It’s an Atlantic Canada thing; it’s iconic,” said Dave Sobey, director of support services with the grocer.

It’s also on the way out.

On Wednesday, Sobeys Inc. announced that it will remove plastic grocery bags from all Sobeys stores by the end of January. The company says the plan will take about 225 million plastic grocery bags out of circulation at Sobeys’ 255 locations across Canada each year.

“People love their Sobeys bags, 100 per cent, and that’s going to be the biggest change for people,” Sobey said during an interview Wednesday at the chain’s store on Mumford Road in Halifax.

“We’ll still give them their Sobeys bag, but it’ll be a reusable Sobeys bag that they can still use as a luggage bag or anything else.”

The move is a first step by the retailer toward eliminating unnecessary plastic from its stores, said Sobey, a fifth-generation family member working for the Stellarton-based grocery giant. The company will follow with phasing out plastic grocery bags and introducing paper bags throughout all its other banners, including Safeway, FreshCo and Foodland.

“When you look at the total number, it’s over 800 million plastic bags annually, across all banners, so it’s a significant impact by taking decisive steps to do something tangible to make a difference for the environment,” Sobey said.

“We have a pretty big sustainability focus and this is one piece of that step. ... We’re going to continue that momentum.”

Sobeys checkouts will have reusable and paper bags available. Plastic will still be used when food safety and freshness are factors, said Sobey.

“There’s other areas that we’re working on. We’ve done pilots and tests to look at all areas of the business to eliminate unnecessary plastic waste.”

These include using less plastic to wrap shipping pallets, he said.

This month, in the produce department, Sobeys will introduce a line of reusable mesh produce bags made from recycled water bottles to provide customers with an alternative for handling fresh produce. The bags were launched in IGA stores in Quebec in June and received positive feedback from customers, according to the company.

Sobey couldn’t say what the financial implications for the initiatives might be for the company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Empire Co. Ltd. that owns or franchises more than 1,500 stores across the country.

“I don’t have numbers, but we know this is not a cost savings initiative, it’s a sustainability initiative based on customer feedback (and) employee feedback.”

Prince Edward Island may be a test case. The Plastic Bag Reduction Act took effect there July 1, prohibiting a business from providing plastic checkout bags to customers. The use of paper or reusable bags is encouraged.

“They eliminated plastic bags on the Island, and our customer feedback on using reusable bags has been phenomenal,” said Sobey.

“We have over 90 per cent of our customers that use reusable bags.”

Sobey said customers have been consistent about the desire to reduce plastic used in stores, but at least one disagrees.

“If they eliminate plastic bags, you’ll just end up paying for something that you got for free,” said a skeptical Halifax retiree who didn’t want to be identified publicly because he shops frequently at the Mumford Road Sobeys.

“The notion that we can get by without plastic bags is ridiculous.”


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