Businesses and consumers are currently preparing for the plastic bag ban which comes into effect on July 1st, 2019. 

The Story

By: Nancy Russell

Prince Edward Island businesses and consumers are getting set for the ban on plastic checkout bags that takes effect on July 1.

P.E.I. will become the first province in Canada to ban the single-use bags, under the Plastic Bag Reduction Act.

“I was up along the North Shore in the resort area last week and I was pleasantly surprised with how the business community up there has been making the adjustment,” said John Hughes, with the Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change.

“It’s quite a change for our Island owned and operated businesses to make, we’ve been doing plastic bags for 40 years.”

Hughes has been travelling the Island, speaking to residents and businesses, in anticipation of the new rules.

He said he has heard some concerns from the business community.

“They’re concerned with how long is it going to take them to use up their existing supply of bags,” Hughes said.

“Are they able to find a satisfactory supply of paper bags and reusable alternatives? Because this is really about promoting the reusable bags.”

Education not enforcement

Hughes said the intent of the legislation is not to have 30 million paper bags replacing 30 million plastic bags, but to encourage Islanders to find ways to reuse bags, or eliminate them entirely.

“It can be a bit of a challenge because we’ve been using plastic for so long now,” Hughes said. 

“The infrastructure to supply paper and reusable bags has to be built up again.”

Hughes said the first six months will be about education, not enforcement.

“To allow the businesses to train their staff, acquire alternatives in the way of paper or reusable bags,” Hughes said.

“The goal is to work with the business community and with the public to implement this in the best way possible.”

In 2020, individuals breaching the act can face fines between $50 and $500. Businesses could be fined as much as $10,000.

Consultation in September
Hughes said the department is planning a month-long consultation with the business community in September, asking for feedback on how the process is going, and any changes that might be needed.

Hughes said enforcement of the Plastic Bag Reduction Act will be done by the Department of Justice.

“But from what I’m seeing in the response from the business community, I don’t think we have to worry about fines,” Hughes said.

“The businesses appear to be sincerely trying to comply with the act.”

Hughes said most of the businesses he’s been talking to will have some inventory left over on July 1.

“They’re allowed to use up those plastic bags before they start using all of the other bags, so I think there will be a period where the business community is going through the transition,” Hughes said. 

“But I suspect by the end of the transition period, by the end of this year, things will look dramatically different.”

Tricky timing

Hughes admits he has heard some concerns about the change coming during the Island’s busy tourism season.

“I think the retail industry and the quick-service industry would probably tell you that February is the preferred time to make any changes,” Hughes said. 

“I don’t hear that so much anymore and I think this is a good opportunity for the business community to implement the changes for their permanent staff as well as their seasonal staff.”

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