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Walmart to start charging for plastic bags

Customers will be charged five cents a bag, or buy reusable for 25 cents

Walmart Canada will follow the step several grocers took years ago and stop providing free plastic bags to customers next month in an attempt to reduce waste.

The elimination of free, single-use plastic bags will start Feb. 9 in B.C. and roll out nationwide over the following months.

Walmart will sell plastic bags at five cents per bag. The bags will be 25% thicker and 25% bigger than the free bags Walmart currently provides, in an effort to reduce the number of bags needed and reduce the need for double-bagging, Alex Roberton senior director of corporate affairs at Walmart Canada, told Canadian Grocer.

Customers will also be encouraged to use Walmart-branded reusable bags, made from recycled material and sold at a discounted rate of 25 cents. Walmart currently charges 97 cents for reusable bags and will sell its new reusable bags at a loss.

“The timing has to do with our overall goal to eliminate 100% of our waste,” said Roberton, noting that Walmart uses “tens of millions” of plastic bags annually in Canada.

Walmart says its 12 waste programs–including cardboard, thicker plastic, organic waste, metal, oil and others–have resulted in the diversion of 72% of Walmart waste from municipal landfills.

The move comes at a time when Canadian retailers are revoking the fee charged to customers for using plastic shopping bags, opting instead to hand them out for free.

READ: Plastic bag ban battle begins in Montreal

“We’re aware of what’s going on in the marketplace and our decision is really about getting rid of plastic film waste,” Roberton said.

In Japan and the U.K., Walmart found that charging a fee reduced plastic bag use by more than 50%. Similar Canadian programs have had comparable success, Walmart says.

Walmart says it will improve in-store recycling and collection programs and is working with suppliers to find new ways to remove plastic from its packaging processes. Partial proceeds from the five-cent fee and savings from not giving out free bags will go to support plastic film recycling initiatives and to improve customer experience at checkout, Roberton said. The goal is to make checkout faster.

Customers can also bring in any plastic bags to Walmart for distribution to companies that can use them to develop new products, Roberton said.

READ: Retailers backtracking on plastic bag fee

Eliminating free bags “does have an impact on customers and we recognize that. We know we’re asking a lot of our customers by asking them to change their shopping habits.”

No timeline has been set as to when the free bags will be eliminated across the country. “It’s more important to be right than fast,” he said.

In-store signage will promote the change. “We don’t want customers to be surprised when they get to the checkout and there’s a fee for the bags.”

Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Walmart's senior director of corporate affairs. It is Alex Roberton, not Alex Robertson.

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