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Plastic bag-free
Seventy-one businesses in the NWT no longer sell plastic bags

Heather Lange
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op has joined Canadian Tire and 70 other NWT businesses in declaring a plastic bag-free zone at the store.

NNSL photo/graphic

Alex McBride loads her groceries packed into her reusable bags into her vehicle outside the Co-op on Aug. 31. McBride said she's fine with the fact that plastic bags are no longer sold at the Co-op, unless she forgets to bring one from home to use for her meat. - Heather Lange/NNSL photo

"It was a decision we came to as a whole," said Justin Nelson, Co-op assistant general manager.

The Co-op stopped selling single-use retail bags, including plastic bags Aug. 1.

"We've had about three complaints out of 4,000 members, so the complaints have been very little," said Nelson.

Some patrons of the store said they miss the option of having a plastic bag when they forget canvas or reusable bags at home.

"The odd time I do forget to bring my bags, it would be nice to have a plastic bag available. They now supply boxes for free but what do you do with the box once you're done? Do you throw it out or recycle?" said Dave Brothers.

"I'm OK with it as long as we remember our (reuseable) bags. We have over 20 bags at home," said Sylvia Masongsong.

Bob Moody exited the Co-op with his hands overflowing with groceries on Aug. 31. Although it might have made his trip easier, Moody said the new plastic bag-free zone was for the best.

'It's better'

"It's better that I don't have a plastic bag and throw it away."

The Co-op lowered the cost of its reusable bags to 49 cents on Aug. 1 to help customers stalk up on their reusable bags at a lower cost.

"It's smarter to use a reusable bag than a plastic bag, and since we have lowered the price, we have sold 4,000 bags at 49 cents. We have definitely gotten more bags out there into the community," said Nelson.

The cost of a reusable bag at the Co-op will stay at 49 cents until Nov. 1, when it will go back up to 99 cents.

"Environmentally, it is the best thing to do. I encourage all store owners to do away with plastic bags and think of the future," said Nelson.

Chris Kondracki, store manager at Canadian Tire, said the store has had good results from implementing its own plastic bag-free zone in the store since January.

"Initially, there was certainly some learning on behalf of the customer just understanding they had to bring a cloth bag in with them, but that learning curve only lasted a month or two. Most are appreciative of the fact that our store has eliminated plastic bags," said Kondracki.

The decision to be rid of single-use retail bags at Canadian Tire was not a nationwide decision, but one stemming from the Yellowknife store.

Low prices

Canadian Tire sells their reusable bags for 98 cents a piece for a loss in profits. Kondracki said the price will continue to stay low so they stay competitive and provide an alternative to customers who forget to bring bags from home.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources started the first phase of its Single-Use Retail Bag Program on Jan.15, 2010 where all grocery outlets were being charged for a 25-cent levy on every plastic bag sold. In February of this year, the program expanded to include all retailers who have single-use retail bags and also expanded to include paper, plastic and biodegradable bags.

"To date, we have 127 registered retailers in the program and we have 71 businesses or retailers in the Northwest Territories who have declared themselves a bag-free retailer," said Diep Duong, solid waste specialist with the department.

Since June 2010, the government has successfully reduced the use of plastic bags by 60 to 67 per cent.

"We have actually prevented the use of 5.1 to 5.7 million single-use retail bags," said Duong.

The levy has also generated $562,000 that goes directly into the GNWT environment fund. The environment fund can only be used to pay for waste reduction programs and initiatives.

Duong pointed out two reasons why the government implemented the single-use retail bag program.

The first was for waste reduction and the second came from consultation with the communities in 2008.

"The whole three Rs, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, a lot of people think that recycling is very good, which it is, but waste reduction is even better. People told us during consultation, 'We don't like it and we don't want it on our land. It's like a white ghost spread out on the tundra,'" said Duong.

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