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IGA supermarkets across the Island of Montreal are set to officially phase out the use of plastic bags as of September 3.

It’s part of a larger nation-wide project to rid all grocery stores owned by Sobeys Inc. of disposable bags by February 2020 with Montreal set to be the first location to move toward that goal. 

"We really felt that the amount of avoidable plastic in grocery stores is shocking," said Vittoria Varalli, the company's vice-president of sustainability. Varalli said change will eliminate 225 million bags used annually at Sobeys 255 stores.

Once the change happens, people will be offered paper bags or can use their reusable bags instead. While IGA will sitll offer plastic produce bags citing health reasons, they are also currently offering a new line of reusable mesh alternatives made from recycled bottles.

In June, the federal government announced it would ban several single-use plastic items such as cutlery by 2021. The Trudeau administration cited concern over garbage infiltrating waterways as the reason for the ban. In June, Prince Edward Island became the first province to completely get rid of plastic bags. 

In April, the Montreal Executive Committee announced it plans to introduce a bylaw banning single-use plastics and polystyrene foam containers by spring 2020.

Varalli said IGA is also trying to get customers to make the switch by offering extra incentives, including preferential parking.

"The ultimate goal," said Varalli, is to eliminate plastic bags from the produce aisle as well.

Richard Deziel, owner of three IGA supermarkets in Montreal, said he's seen habits change. He estimated about 70 per cent of his clientele already bring their own bags. 

“We're wasting about 12 million plastic bags per year just in the 37 stores on the island of Montreal.”

“We’ve been having pressure from everybody—employees, customers, and environmental groups,” continued Deziel. “This is something that needed to be done, we have to actually stop talking about it and start doing something about it.”

Despite the fact that Canadians use about 2.86 billion plastic bags a year, Vito Buonsante, plastics program manager at the advocacy organization Environmental Defence sees them as "low-hanging fruit" that people can easily do without.

With files from the Canadian Press and Kelly Greig