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Sobeys will eliminate plastic grocery bags from its stores by 2020

Sobeys Inc. is Canada's second largest food retailer with more than 1,500 supermarkets and a number of banners. (Getty)

Sobeys Inc. will remove plastic bags from its grocery stores by the end of January 2020, as more retailers focus on reducing the use of single-use plastic.

The grocer, which is owned by Stellarton, N.S.-based Empire Co. Ltd., announced Wednesday that its plan to eliminate plastic grocery bags from its 255 Sobeys locations will take 225 million bags out of circulation. Once the plastic grocery bags are removed from the Sobeys locations, the company will begin phasing them out at its other chains, including Safeway, FreshCo and Foodland.

Michael Medline, the president and chief executive of Empire, said in a statement that the move was a response to customer and employee feedback urging the store to use less plastic.

“This is a first step, and we plan to make meaningful progress every year to take plastic out of our stores and our products,” he said.

“We’re taking action now, making a tangible difference today and into the future. This is a significant first step, but it’s only a first step. We need to go further, and we will.”

Sobeys says it plans on introducing several programs that reduce plastic use in its stores and encourage customers to use reusable bags while it phases out plastic grocery bags.

Beginning in August, the grocer will introduce a line of reusable mesh produce bags made from recycled water bottles. Empire had previously tested the products at IGA locations in Quebec this summer, and said the feedback from customers was “highly positive.” The company will also launch a campaign in September to encourage reusable bag adoption at IGA stores on Montreal Island, which features designated parking spots and promotional offers for customers bringing in reusable bags.

“It’s time for change, and we will not stop innovating and bringing to market new ways to remove avoidable plastic from retail,” Vittoria Varalli, Empire’s vice president of sustainability, said in a statement.

“We are working with our industry partners and key stakeholders on eradicating plastic from the system... It will take a collective effort to drive real, meaningful change for the future.”

Empire is certainly not the only grocer that has decide to reduce the amount of plastic products being used at its locations.

Metro Inc. announced in April that it will allow customers in Quebec to bring in reusable containers for the purchase of fresh products as part of an effort to reduce the use of plastic packaging. Loblaw Companies Ltd. also announced in June that it would be partnering with Loop to test a pilot project in Toronto that will allow customers to get President’s Choice products delivered to their doors in reusable containers.

The fast food industry has also been pushed towards eliminating plastic products, with many chains, including KFC, announcing plans this year to eliminate straws at its locations. Tim Hortons also introduced a 100 per cent recyclable lid this year, and is testing a more environmentally-friendly paper cup as the company tries to reduce its environmental footprint.

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