Retailers say they have Nanaimo’s checkout bag regulation bylaw in the bag.
Once the bylaw takes effect July 1, single-use plastic bags at checkouts will be prohibited. Stores will be mandated to only offer paper bags at 15 cents each, or sell reusable bags. Retailers will not be allowed to offer bags to customers free of charge.
Kim Smythe, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO, said he’s not hearing much consternation from business owners and managers about the change.
“We initially started talking to the business community in 2019 about this,” Smythe said. “We held a couple of round tables for the city to talk to merchandisers in town and … everybody was totally cool with it. They saw it coming.”
Jason Marshall, Quality Foods Harewood store manager, said customers and retailers won’t realize the impact of the bylaw until it comes into full effect, but store policies about sanitizing checkout points and having customers pack their own reusable bags, already in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, won’t change much.
“We request that if you bring your own bags, you pack your own bags,” Marshall said. “Most everybody is completely fine with it and then we sanitize everything, of course, but then you also have your older clientèle or somebody who may have issues where they ask [staff] to pack. I don’t have a problem with it … I try to make everything as easy as possible.”
Wayne Williams, Nanaimo Home Hardware store manager, said charging for something formerly provided for free will take getting used to.
“The main issue that we’re facing is we’ve never charged for bags – paper or plastic – before, so it’s going to be somewhat of a change to add another fee to a customer, but I guess it’s all in the way to get them to bring their reusable bags each time,” Williams said.
He said customers will have to pack their own reusable bags they bring to the store, but otherwise sanitation policies haven’t changed, with cashiers continuing to wipe down the checkout counter between customers, for example.
Tory Dillabough, Country Grocer Bowen Road store manager, said the company has long offered its reusable bags and the store is working to secure multiple suppliers of large paper bags to meet potential demand, but the store is ready for the changeover.
“We’ve actually put something out on social media informing our customers that we are welcoming back the reusable bags from their homes now and we are going to start packing them again [July 1], but we do ask that they be as clean as possible,” Dillabough said. “Sanitization and all of that will still stay in effect with our company policy, so when a customer goes through [the checkout], whether they use our bag or their own, we sanitize before we let the next customer through.”
Mid Island Co-Op has supplies and plans in place for people who don’t bring reusable bags.
“Very few bags get used anyway, because – unlike grocers where every order’s got multiple bags in an order – in our case it’s grab and go,” said Ian Anderson, Mid Island Co-Op CEO. “People grab a pop and a bag of chip and out the door they go.”
At the co-op’s Mid Island Liquor stores, Anderson said, customers often use boxes and the stores will have a reusable bag program. Paper sleeve bags for bottles will still be provided and are among single-use bags exempt under the bylaw.
Some examples of other bags that are exempt from the bylaw are bags to keep newspapers dry, to package nails and other small hardware, to carry bulk produce, and to protect dry-cleaned clothes.
Smythe said Nanaimo going without single-use plastic bags might not have a big impact on the environment, but as part of a provincial or national trend it will.
“In the big scheme of things, if Nanaimo doesn’t have plastic bags I don’t think we’re going to save many whales or sea turtles, but if the province puts it into force and then the country puts it in to force, I think it’s great,” Smythe said. “What other piece of garbage do you see so much of anywhere than plastic bags blowing around streets and highways?”