Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Grocery stores continue to nickel and dime for plastic bags
The city dropped its mandatory five-cent bag fee as of July 1 and left it up to businesses to decide whether to keep charging or to waive the fee. However, the majority of grocery stores are still asking customers to pay for plastic.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags in use, not to collect nickels,” Loblaw spokesman Julija Hunter said Wednesday, adding Loblaws implemented a pay-per-bag approach six months prior to the city’s bylaw and No Frills has been charging for bags since 1987.
“Customers who choose to pay for plastic shopping bags can do so knowing that partial proceeds from our charge-for-plastic shopping bag program support World Wildlife Fund Canada initiatives. We have donated $4 million in four years from the proceeds.”
However, Hunter refused to disclose the number of bags sold each year or the revenue Loblaws collected.
“Proceeds for sale of bags go to pay for cost of the bag, store marketing costs associated with reduction of plastic bag use and donations,” she said. “We have 71% fewer bags from our stores as a result of approach."
The lack of transparency continues to be a problem and the defunct bylaw had no control over that, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said.
“The money’s theirs to do what they please,” Holyday said. “I certainly would not be supportive of anyone gouging consumers, but again, whether they charge or don’t charge for the bags is a decision they make on behalf of their own businesses.”
But it’s not just Loblaws. Other big chain stores such as Metro and Sobeys are also charging for bags.
A Metro spokesman said they implemented their fee in all stores in Ontario and Quebec stores at the same time as Toronto Council made it mandatory in the city “because it made sense to reduce the number of bags we distribute.”
“We observed a drop of 70%,” said Marie-Claude Bacon. “To go back to where we were in 2009, would be not be efficient. It didn’t make sense to us and we didn’t feel it was a responsible way to go.”
Bacon said Metro has invested over $6 million since 2009 in the Green Apple School Program in the form of $1,000 grants to promote projects linked to the environment.
“The ($6 million is) not all of the proceeds – that is part of it, but it’s not all of it,” said Bacon. “I don’t know how much it would be, but it’s a significant amount of revenue we get. We buy the bags for 2¢ and sell them for 5¢.”
Sobeys said over $1.2 million, “the vast majority of sales” of its plastic bags – though they won’t reveal numbers – goes to 91 green programs via grants in Ontario under the Earth Day Community Environment Fund.
“I don’t have a percentage, I would say it’s a vast majority,” said Sobeys Ontario spokesman Sarah Stover. “We typically don’t disclose details of our financials because we’re a private company and given the nature of the competitive nature we’re in.”
Sobeys is defending its position selling plastic bags because they claim the fee was part of the company’s own sustainability commitment in 2009 to reduce plastic bag use in Ontario, not based on the city’s mandate.
However, the company isn’t charging across the chain nationwide.
According to a Sobeys’ Atlantic spokesman, stores in the East Coast “have never charged for bags.”
“We run our businesses on a regional basis,” said Stover. “When it came time to implement this program, it was a regional decision.”
Longo’s is the only outfit that has agreed to comply council’s decision and won’t charge its shoppers.
“We only charged because of the bylaw in Toronto,” said Jerry Buligan, director of operations for Longo Brothers Fruit Market Inc.
“We’ve never charged outside of the 416 area code. We choose to let the customer make up their mind and give them the option. We didn’t think (the bylaw) was part of our philosophy.”
Where grocery stores say the bag fee proceeds are going:
Over $6 million since 2009 in the Green Apple School Program in the form of $1,000 grants to elementary and high school students in Ontario and Quebec to promote projects linked to the environment.
Donated more than $1.2 million since 2009 to the Earth Day Canada Community Environment Fund, which so far has given 91 grants to organizations across Ontario and to schools, including the Toronto United Church Council and Green Awakening Network and the Jewish Nature Centre of Canada.
Partial proceeds from our charge-for-plastic shopping bag program support World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada initiatives including the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, National Sweater Day and Green CommUnity School Grants. The company has donated $4 million in four years.