We’re nonetheless stockpiling reusable baggage. Massive grocers have adopted options, however consultants have issues

Canada’s plastic bag ban has had an unintended consequence: a proliferation of reusable baggage piling up in basements, closets and, finally, landfills.

“They’re all over the place,” mentioned environmental researcher Tony Walker. “We’re drowning in them, and we should not be.”

To fight the issue, a number of of Canada’s huge grocers have launched options. Final week, Walmart launched a free nationwide recycling pilot program for the retailer’s reusable blue baggage. Opponents Sobeys and chains owned by Loblaw Firms Ltd. use recyclable paper baggage for grocery supply.

However some environmental consultants argue that paper baggage are additionally problematic and that one of the best options are people who assist prospects truly reuse their reusable baggage.

“We simply cannot maintain giving [them] out,” mentioned Walker, a professor at Dalhousie College’s College for Useful resource and Environmental Research in Halifax. “We’re solely meant to have a number of of them, and we’re meant to make use of them till they crumble.”

In late 2022, the federal authorities rolled out a ban on the manufacture, import and sale of a number of single-use plastics, together with checkout baggage. The laws are being contested in courtroom, however within the meantime, they continue to be in impact.

The Selas take inventory of the reusable baggage they’ve amassed from Walmart grocery supply. They’ve signed up for the retailer’s free nationwide recycling pilot program. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

The laws have made single-use purchasing baggage scarce in Canada, however they’ve additionally led to the proliferation of reusable baggage, particularly for grocery supply.

“It simply creates extra waste, which is what we’re making an attempt to keep away from within the first place,” Walmart buyer Udi Sela mentioned in a CBC Information interview in late 2022.

On the time, Sela, who lives in Maple, Ont., estimated his household had acquired about 300 reusable Walmart baggage by way of grocery supply.

“We won’t return them, we will not do a lot with them.”

Now, a bit greater than a yr later, Walmart has launched a pilot challenge to handle the issue.

It permits prospects to pack up their undesirable reusable Walmart blue baggage and ship them — at no cost — to a facility the place they’re going to get a second life.

The way it works

In line with Walmart, baggage in good situation will probably be laundered and donated to charity, primarily Meals Banks Canada. Broken baggage will get recycled into different supplies. Reusable baggage sometimes cannot go in blue bins as a result of they’re expensive and tough to recycle.

Prospects should join Walmart’s program, and enrolment is restricted.

Jennifer Barbazza, Walmart’s senior supervisor of sustainability, mentioned the retailer will fine-tune the main points as this system progresses.

“[We] know that some prospects have extra reusable baggage than perhaps they want,” she mentioned. “One of many issues that we’re actually excited to find out about from the pilot is buyer acceptance and buyer suggestions.”

WATCH | Is your private home overrun with reusable baggage? Be a part of the membership:

Is your private home overrun with reusable baggage? You are not alone.

Reusable baggage live lease free in closets and automobile trunks throughout the nation. Most main retailers made the swap away from single-use plastic baggage a couple of yr in the past, nevertheless it’s taking time for some prospects to catch on. They’re forgetting to deliver their baggage with them, and shopping for extra each week.

Udi Sela has already signed up.

“I undoubtedly assume it is a step in the proper route,” he mentioned in an interview on Friday. “It is one thing that wanted to be achieved some time in the past. God is aware of we have got a ton of luggage type of piled up.”

He mentioned he is involved that some prospects might discover mailing the luggage a hurdle. Nevertheless, it is not deterring Sela, who quickly plans to ship a whole bunch. 

Passing the buck?

Not everyone seems to be eager on Walmart’s challenge. Emily Alfred, a waste campaigner with Toronto Environmental Alliance, mentioned donating the luggage to the meals financial institution is simply passing on the issue.

“We have to take away waste from the system solely, and simply sending these some other place for another person to cope with is just not actually an answer,” she mentioned.

Alfred mentioned a greater possibility is a program Walmart piloted in Guelph, Ont., in 2022. For a price, prospects may try reusable baggage from an in-store kiosk and later return them to be cleaned and reused.

“That is an actual round reuse system,” she mentioned.

Two Walmart employees stand next to a kiosk here customers could, for a fee, get a resuable bag.
Walmart launched a pilot program in Guelph, Ont., in 2022. For a price, prospects may try reusable baggage from an in-store kiosk after which return them to be cleaned and reused. (Walmart Canada)

Walmart’s Barbazza mentioned the retailer is continuous to discover completely different reusable bag applications, together with ones positioned in shops.

She additionally mentioned she’s assured Canada’s meals banks will make good use of the luggage.

“There’s undoubtedly a necessity for sturdy objects to distribute supplies to the meals financial institution shoppers.”

The paper drawback

Amongst Canada’s main grocers, solely Walmart gives a reusable bag program for all prospects.

Loblaw lately switched from reusable to recyclable paper baggage for grocery supply. Sobeys didn’t reply to requests for remark, however in keeping with its web site, the grocery store additionally makes use of paper baggage and “reusable choices” for residence supply.

A number of environmental consultants say paper baggage aren’t a very good answer, as a result of their manufacturing leaves a large carbon footprint.

“Paper baggage are an issue,” Alfred mentioned. “It takes quite a lot of vitality to recycle paper, takes quite a lot of bushes and vitality to make new paper.”

Loblaw mentioned it continues to discover a wide range of extra sustainable options. “It is a problem we’re dedicated to addressing,” spokesperson Dave Bauer mentioned in an e mail.

Emily Alfred leaning against a wall outside.
Emily Alfred, a waste campaigner with Toronto Environmental Alliance, says sending reusable baggage to charity is simply passing on the issue to another person and that paper baggage aren’t an answer. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Each Walker and Alfred applaud Metro for its grocery supply program, as a result of the grocery store, which operates in Ontario and Quebec, reuses supply supplies.

Metro mentioned prospects can get their items delivered in a cardboard field or reusable baggage, which might be returned and used for one more supply. Or prospects can go for a plastic bin and take away their groceries from it upon arrival.

Metro doesn’t provide comparable applications for in-store consumers.

Alfred mentioned the federal authorities ought to introduce laws that mandate retailers undertake efficient reusable bag applications for all prospects.

“It is as much as our governments and other people to demand that these corporations do higher,” she mentioned.

However Walker prompt that the laws could be laborious to implement and that incentives may be a greater tactic.

For instance, if retailers elevated the value of reusable baggage, consumers is likely to be much less more likely to neglect them once they head to the shop, he mentioned.

“When the fee is a disincentive to do an exercise, folks change their behaviour.”

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