As of the new year, Montreal implemented a plastic bag ban – the first major Canadian city to do so. Former mayor Denis Coverer’s administration passed the bylaw in 2016 and current Mayor Valérie Plante is moving forward with it.
The new bylaw bans lightweight plastic shopping bags, specifically ones less than 50 microns (or 0.05 millimeters) thick. The ban also includes all types of oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable, oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable bags. Small plastic bags used for fresh vegetables or medication will not be banned for hygienic reasons.
Montreal retailers will have until June 5, 2018 as a grace period to adjust to the new bylaw. City officials will meet with retailers to help them apply the bylaw in their stores.
After June 5, retailers will be subject to penalties should they continue to distribute single-use plastic bags. Fines for an individual are up to $1,000 and $2,000 for a corporation for a first offense.
These grocery bags have had a significant impact on marine and global ecosystems. Two million bags are being used every year in Quebec and only 14 percent are being recycled, according to Jean-Franćois Parenteau, Montreal’s executive committee member responsible for the environment. The rest end up in landfills, which could take years to fully decompose.
Taso Erimos, owner of P.A. Marché, a chain of grocery stores that includes the flagship store on Montreal’s Park Avenue, said more than 1,000 bags are doled out in one day by his cashiers.
City officials say the ban will encourage people to move away from single-use products and to adopt reusable bags.
Other countries have already implemented nationwide bans and they have seen success. In the United States, for instance, California introduced a statewide bag ban in 2016 and bag litter has dropped by 72 percent, according to Melissa Romero, part of the non-profit Californians Against Waste.
The Montreal suburb, Brossard, also has had the plastic bag ban since 2016 and they too are seeing positive results.
“It’s making people more aware of the environmental impact that plastic bags have, so it’s a good idea,” Mizan Chowdhury said, a local Brossard shopper.
The municipality has seen a 96 percent compliance rate since the bylaw was enacted and no fine have been given to date.
In Canada, a number of other municipalities, including Alberta’s Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, home to Fort McMurray have bag bans.