News: Push to punt plastic

Published in the June 3 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Push to punt plastic

Change aimed at customers with bad bag behaviour is making its way to retail stores across the province as part of a new awareness campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags.

Ramping up promotion of reusable bags — and even offering those bags at a deep discount or for free — are just some of the measures that will be used in the voluntary reduction campaign, announced Wednesday.

The campaign, put on by the provincial government and four of Canada’s major retail associations, is aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags by 50% over five years.

“It goes without saying that plastic bags and the waste associated with plastic bags is something that the public has increasingly become concerned about,” said Environment Minister Rob Renner.

“It’s more than just an eyesore and a nuisance, plastic bags contribute to a significant amount of environmental problems.”

Currently, reusable bags are offered at various grocery chains across Alberta, at a small price. Some chains, such as Superstore, also charge customers for plastic bags as a plastic bag-use deterrent.

Ruth Swan, head cashier at Terra Losa Safeway 9710 170 St., says in her 48 years of working for the company, she’s never seen more customers going through her till with reusable bags.

“I’ve seen quite an increase. I think people are getting really conscious about saving the environment,” Swan said.

Jenny Boyd, whose Wednesday grocery trip used up six plastic bags, says offering reusable bags for free would make her change her bad bag behaviour.

“If they provide people with reusable bags in the first place at no charge, because some people can’t afford it, then I would use them more consistently,” Boyd said.

Other reduction initiatives include providing consumers with incentives like rebate or points programs, offering recycled cardboard boxes as a carry-out option, and even training store staff to pack more items into bags than they currently are.

“But you don’t want to reinforce the old stereotype of the customer walking down the street with their groceries all over the place,” said Tom Hesse with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of Canada.

Many of the initiatives outlined in the awareness plan have already been implemented in stores, but more aggressive promotion is on the way.

The four organizations involved , the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, Retail Council of Canada, Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers and the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores, make up more than 90% of all retail sales in Alberta.

The organizations aim to reduce the use of up to 450 million plastic bags in the province by 2013, with annual reduction number reports.

If goals are not met in five years, the government plans to look at implementing a ban. “But at this point, I believe this is the best way to go,” Renner said.

Ontario and B.C. have similar campaigns.

The average Albertan uses over 257 plastic bags per year.

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