Montreal Passes Official Plastic Bag Ban

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre has announced that the city will officially ban single-use plastic bags beginning January 1, 2018, giving consumers and businesses a little less than two years to adjust to the new requirements. “You will understand that our plan is the result of extensive analysis and thoughtful reflection,” Coderre said after the official announcement. “Lightweight bags, which are used by the billions, are volatile and represent a clear environmental concern.” While six smaller municipalities in Canada have already implemented a plastic bag ban, Montreal is the largest Canadian city to date to do so.

The ban pertains to lightweight plastic shopping bags, those that are less than 50 microns (0.05 millimeters) thick, as well as bags that are oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable, oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable. Certain bags are exempt, such as those used for fresh vegetables, dry cleaning or medications, while thicker recyclable plastic bags, which the city says can be reused 150 times, will be available for sale at Montreal stores for about 5 cents.

Local government has plans to run a public education program prior to the ban to raise awareness and acquire public support. The city says the two-year transition period will allow bag suppliers and stores to use up their current inventory, and will give members of the plastic bag manufacturing industry, made up of 23 companies employing over 1,000 people on the island of Montreal, time to transition to other types of production.

The mayor’s announcement follows a recommendation by the city’s environmental committee in December that plastic bags be outlawed in Montreal. The initial proposal for a ban was put forward by Coderre a little more than a year ago.

“In a few years, these plastic bags used by billions worldwide will be a thing of another era,” said Coderre to The Montreal Gazette.

The Greener Footprints Society, a not-for-profit environmental advocacy group based in British Columbia, states that Canadians use between 9 and 15 billion plastic shopping bags a year.

However, the announcement has not come without opposition. Business owners in Montreal have cited a likely drop in local commerce, arguing that the ban will compel consumers to shop less frequently while purchasing more items during each shopping trip, most likely on weekends when they have easier access to permissible bags stored at home. They have also suggested that pedestrian and bicycle traffic will decline significantly, since the ban will make impulsive shopping more difficult for customers who will need to have their own reusable bags in-hand or be willing to purchase bags at the retailer.

“We are disappointed because we showed a survey to the committee that said 54% of our members were against a total ban,” said François Vincent, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, to the United Kingdom’s Independent. “[Our members] were for the objective of reducing plastic bags for a better environment, but they were afraid of the impact on the economy because it will cost them more.”  

Montreal was one of the first cities in Canada to impose a 5-cent charge for plastic bags in 2007. Plastic bag use was reduced by 50%, which was deemed a success by Montreal’s local government. A similar plastic bag ban and 5-cent charge were introduced by Toronto’s city council in 2013, but was overturned the same year. Plastic bags have not yet been officially prohibited in that city, the largest in Canada.

Earlier this February, the city of Brossard became the third municipality in the Quebec province to implement a similar ban, which will begin next September. However, the Canadian Plastic Bag Association sent the city a legal warning, calling the move “an abusive and unreasonable abuse of power” and citing a lack of public consultation before the decision came down.