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As of today, Montreal businesses are no longer allowed to distribute disposable plastic bags. That includes everything from retail stores and supermarkets to takeout and delivery.

And that’s just fine for Janou McDermott who has been collecting different types of reusable grocery bags for years.

“The more people you see with reusable bags, the more it’ll lead by example,” she said. 

“I think that more people will follow suit and I think once there are no more alternatives, you’ll have to get onboard.”

In a news release, the city says only 16 per cent of bags are recycled while the rest often end up in the environment, taking up to 1,000 years to break down. 

The plastic impacts ecosystems and the film contaminates the paper bales in sorting centres, the release says. The ban will significantly impact the quality of sorted paper at recycling centres, it says.

“The fight against climate change is everyone’s business and we hope that this strong gesture can equip other municipalities to follow suit,” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante is quoted as saying in the release. 

Some stores offer alternatives you can buy, such as brown paper bags or reusable bags. Stores that continue to offer plastic bags can be fined as much as $1,000 for a first offence and up to $2,000 for repeat offences. 

Janou McDermott checks a label while carrying her reusable shopping bags in a grocery store in Montreal’s west end. (CBC)

Montrealer Kito Lampard-Virga says plastic bags have other uses.

“I will take one grocery bag and I will use it for weeks,” he said. “If it’s dirty, I will wash it. I will put my clothes in it. I bring it back and forth to work. Sometimes, I want to carry something dirty, so I will put it in a plastic bag when I get home.”

Ready for change

But as useful as they can be, staff here at Le Marché Esposito, a supermarket in the city’s west end, say they’re ready to do away with plastic bags.

Assistant manager Normand Shannon said pollution is leading to climate change.

“Without the plastic bag, we won’t have that pollution,” he said. “That’s going to help a lot.”

Coun. Marie-Andrée Mauger is the executive committee member responsible for the city’s ecological transition and the environment. She says the city is encouraging merchants to promote the use of reusable bags.

“We’re confident that things will go smoothly. We are at this turning point where people accept that we need to reduce the number of bags that we use every day in our daily lives,” she said.

The Plante administration is striving to achieve zero waste, and another step toward that status will be enacted in March 2023 when eight single-use plastic items will also be banned. 

This will include trays (except those for meat and fish), plates, containers and their lids, cups or glasses and their lids, stirrers, straws and utensils.

The city is also planning an awareness campaign that will start at the end of October to educate the public about reducing their waste.

Federal government also banning plastic

While Montreal continues to make strides on a local level, Ottawa isn’t far behind.

The federal government is banning companies from importing or making plastic bags and takeout containers by the end of this year, from selling them by the end of next year and from exporting them by the end of 2025.

The move will also affect single-use plastic straws, stir sticks, cutlery and six-pack rings used to hold cans and bottles together.

“Our government is all-in when it comes to reducing plastic pollution,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said earlier this year.

The Liberal government has set 2030 as the target date for halting the flow of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or as litter on beaches, in rivers, wetlands and forests.

Federal data show that in 2019, 15.5 billion plastic grocery bags, 4.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, 5.8 billion straws, three billion stir sticks, 183 million six-pack rings and 805 million takeout containers were sold in Canada.

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