Sobeys to eliminate plastic bags from its stores in 2020

IMAGE: Vittoria Viralli, the vice president of sustainability for Sobeys, uses a reusable mesh bag which will be provided for produce at Sobeys stores. (Courtesy Sobeys Inc.)

Vittoria Varalli, the vice president of sustainability for Sobeys, uses a reusable mesh bag which will be provided for produce at Sobeys stores. (Courtesy Sobeys Inc.)

It’s back to the future for Canadian grocer Sobeys Inc., which plans to eliminate plastic grocery bags from its stores by the end of January 2020. The company says it will take 225 million plastic grocery bags per year out of circulation from Sobeys’ 255 Canadian stores.

In a move that harkens back to grocery stores of old, Sobeys will introduce recyclable paper grocery bags. It will also encourage the adoption of reusable bags and implement other strategies to eliminate “unnecessary plastic” from all Sobeys stores and its other retail banners.

“So many of our customers and our employees have told us loud and clear — they want us to use less plastic – and we agree with them,” said Michael Medline, president and CEO of Sobey’s parent company Empire, in a release. “This is a first step, and we plan to make meaningful progress every year to take plastic out of our stores and our products.

“We decided to act now instead of taking years to study and only make long-term commitments. We’re taking action now, making a tangible difference today and into the future. This is a significant first step, but it’s only a first step. We need to go further, and we will.”

Phase out plastic bags at all banners

Paper bags were the standard for the retail grocery industry for decades until the widespread adoption of plastic carryout bags in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s estimated between 500 billion and a trillion of the plastic bags are manufactured worldwide each year.

Most end up in landfills or fouling the environment, leading to pollution and damage to fish and wildlife.

Starting with eliminating plastic grocery bags from Sobeys stores, the company will then follow by phasing out plastic grocery bags and introducing paper bags in all other banners including Safeway, FreshCo, Foodland and others.

IGA will also launch a campaign in September 2019 to encourage reusable bag adoption.

In addition to the plastic bag phase-out, Sobeys will launch programs to reduce plastics in other areas of the store. It will also encourage use of reusable bags which can be returned for recycling at Sobeys stores when they are no longer usable.

In August, Sobeys produce aisles will introduce reusable mesh produce bags made from recycled water bottles to provide customers with an alternative for their fresh produce. The bags were launched in IGA stores in Quebec in June and “received highly positive feedback from customers” the company says.

Perks for customers with reusable bags

Sobeys has also already started phasing unnecessary plastic from snacking tomatoes in Sobeys Urban Fresh stores in Toronto. Customers can opt for recyclable paper bags to carry their tomatoes.

In conjunction with the phaseout of plastic bags, IGA stores on Montreal Island will launch a campaign in September to encourage reusable bag adoption, which includes:

* Designated parking spots for customers who bring reusable bags

* Promotional IGA offers on reusable bags and boxes to encourage customer use

“It’s time for change, and we will not stop innovating and bringing to market new ways to remove avoidable plastic from retail,” said Vittoria Varalli, Sobeys vice president of sustainability, in the release. “We are working with our industry partners and key stakeholders on eradicating plastics from the system.

“There are many factors to balance like food waste and food safety when assessing the need for packaging in the grocery retail supply chain. It will take a collective effort to drive real, meaningful change for the future.”

Sobeys is partnering with student organization Enactus Canada on a community empowerment project accelerator, challenging young Canadians to find innovative solutions to reduce plastics for grocery retailers, while encouraging behavioural change among consumers.

About Sobeys

Stellarton, N.S.-based Sobeys has been serving the food shopping needs of Canadians since 1907. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Empire Company Limited (EMP.A-T), Sobeys owns or franchises more than 1,500 stores in all 10 provinces. Its retail banners include Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, Farm Boy and Lawton’s Drug Stores, as well as more than 350 retail fuel locations.

Sobeys, its franchisees and affiliates employ approximately 123,000 people.

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