Sobeys extra store in Aurora, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Sobeys Inc.Sobeys extra store in Aurora, Ontario. Photo courtesy of Sobeys Inc.

Sobeys is saying goodbye to plastic bags

A national grocery chain is taking a bold step in the effort to eliminate the use of plastic bags.

Sobeys announced Wednesday morning that it will be phasing out all plastic grocery bags from its stores across Canada by the end of January 2020. The company calls it an "important first step" in reducing the use of plastic at its locations.

According to a media release, Empire, which operates Sobeys, will remove its plastic bags and then follow up this winter with introducing paper bags at all 255 locations nationwide. This will also be the case for their sister stores such as FreshCo, Safeway, Price Chopper, and Foodland.

"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 Empire President and CEO Michael Medline. "This is the 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."

The company, like other Canadian retailers, is encouraging its customers to use recyclable bags when they shop. Also, Sobeys will introduce in August a line of reusable mesh bags made from recycled water bottles. These will be sold in produce departments.

Vittoria Varalli, Empire's vice-president of sustainability, said the company is taking a proactive approach to eliminating unnecessary plastics from the stores.

"We are working with our industry partners and key stakeholders on eradicating plastics from the system," said Varalli. "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."

Some businesses have already taken the step of eliminating single-use plastic objects. Ontario MPP Ian Arthur, of Kingston and the Islands, has introduced a bill to get rid of the plastics in the province. That bill passed first reading in March of this year.

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