Sobeys plans to eliminate plastic bags early next year

The Empire banner would become the first national chain to do so amid growing consumer concern over plastic waste.


Sobeys has announced plans to remove all unnecessary plastic from its retail stores by the end of January 2020, becoming the first national grocery chain to do so amid growing consumer concern over the use of single-use plastics.

The Empire-owned banner says it will eliminate plastic grocery bags from its 255 Canadian locations early next year, estimating the change will take 225 million plastic bags out of circulation annually. The company will then begin phasing out plastic bags across other Empire banners, which including Safeway, FreshCo and Foodland, according to a release.

“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,” Empire CEO Michael Medline said in a statement.

The company has described the move as “an important first step” in its journey to eliminating plastic waste.

For now, Sobeys will be removing plastic bags from some IGA stores in Quebec, with plans to launch a campaign encouraging the use of reusable bags to begin in September through designated parking spots for customers with reusable bags and promotional offers on reusable bags.

The grocer is looking to implement other changes ahead of January 2020. Next month, it will introduce a line of reusable mesh produce bags made from recycled water bottles, following a pilot in IGA stores in Quebec in June.

“There are many factors to balance like food waste and food safety when assessing the need for packaging in the grocery retail supply chain,” said Vittoria Varalli, the company’s VP of sustainability, in a statement. “It will take a collective effort to drive real, meaningful change for the future.”

A number of companies have been making efforts to reduce plastic waste in response to consumer demand for more environmentally friendly options. In Canada, Walmart has committed to reducing its use of plastic check-out bags by 50% come 2025, while Loblaw has become a founding retailer of sustainable packaging program Loop and will bring it to Canada as a pilot in 2020.

Businesses may eventually be forced to eliminate plastics, as the federal government contemplates banning the material by 2021. The government has not revealed the list of products that would be covered under the rules, although plastic bags are among the items being considered.

Research suggests eliminating unnecessary waste could also help companies remain competitive. A report out of Dalhousie University in June found that more than 93% of Canadians want to reduce their use of single-use plastic food packaging. Nearly 90% said they believe government regulations should be strengthened to reduce waste, with more than 70% reporting they would support banning plastics entirely.