On June 8, 2018, the Prince Edward Island (PEI) government passed legislation to prohibit businesses from providing customers with ‘checkout bags’, free of charge. This prohibition includes a ban on single use plastic bags and a mandate that businesses must charge the consumer a fee on any paper bag or reusable bag required to carry items from the business. Before providing the customer with a paper or reusable bag, the business must ask and receive confirmation from the customer that a paper or reusable bag is required.
The passage of this legislation was a surprise as government officials had spent the past two years speaking with RCC about the possibility of mandating a fee on single use plastic bags. The legislation was introduced without any stakeholder input and it resembled the plastic bag bylaw in Victoria, B.C. Retail Council of Canada (RCC) spent weeks opposing the legislation but once it became clear that the government would pass the bill; RCC convinced Island politicians to amend the bill and lessen the impact of the legislation on PEI retailers.
PEI is the first province in Canada to pass legislation to ban single use plastic bags.
The bill does not limit or restrict the sale of bags, including plastic bags, intended for use at a customer’s home or business, that are sold in packages of multiple bags.
The legislation began as a Private Members Bill (PMB) introduced by former cabinet minister, Allen Roach. With his pending retirement from politics, Mr. Roach recently moved to the backbenches in the House of Assembly. PMB’s rarely pass in any legislature but given Mr. Roach’s stature within the government caucus, RCC understood that this bill had the potential to pass. RCC quickly communicated with Mr. Roach and with all PEI MLAs to detail member concerns with the bill, including:
- A single use plastic bag ban was unnecessary given that government had not yet attempted to work with industry in setting reduction targets.
- Retailer opposition to the administrative complications involved in charging a fee on paper bags while banning single use plastic bags.
- The lack of clarity in the bill’s definitions, which could have been avoided if industry had been consulted prior to the introduction of the bill.
- Impossible timelines: the ban on single use plastic bags would have taken effect on July 1, 2018 while the penalties for non-compliance would have taken effect on January 1, 2019.
Based on RCC experience dealing with the bylaw in Victoria, B.C, RCC succeeded in securing the following amendments:
- The ban on single use plastic bags will now not come into effect until July 1, 2019 while the penalties for non-compliance will not take effect until January 1, 2020.
- The reference to the amount of recycled content in paper bags has been eliminated. The original bill would have demanded use of paper bags containing at least 40% recycled content, which would have been problematic for businesses to source.
- The plastic sleeves used to wrap tires in between changeovers has been added to the list of items that are exempted from this legislation.
Other Items of Note in the Legislation:
Fees for Bags:
Beginning on July 1, 2019, the minimum amount that the business must charge for a paper bag will be 15 cents while the minimum charge for a reusable bag will be $1.00. On January 1, 2020, the minimum charge for a paper bag will increase to 25 cents while the minimum charge for a reusable bag will increase to $2.00.
A business may provide a paper or a reusable checkout bag free of charge to a customer only if the bag has already been used by a customer; and the bag is suitable for, and has been returned to the business for, the purpose of being re-used by other customers.
Exemptions to the single use plastic bag ban include bags used to:
(i) package loose bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains or candy,
(ii) package loose small hardware items such as nails and bolts,
(iii) contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, poultry or fish, whether pre-packaged or not,
(iv) wrap flowers or potted plants,
(v) protect prepared foods or bakery goods that are not pre-packaged,
(vi) contain prescription drugs received from a pharmacy,
(vii) transport live fish,
(viii) protect linens, bedding or other similar large items that cannot easily fit in a reusable bag,
(ix) protect newspapers or other printed material intended to be left at the customer’s residence or place of business,
(x) protect clothes after professional laundering or dry cleaning,
(xi) protect vehicle tires between changeovers,
(xii) package medical supplies and items used in the provision of health services.
Penalties for Non-Compliance:
For a corporation, the penalty will be a fine that would range between $100 and $10,000. For an individual, the penalty would range between $50 and $500. Each occurrence of a contravention of a provision of the Act, and each day or part of a day on which a contravention continues, would be considered a separate offence.
There will likely be additional opportunities to make changes to the bill. For instance, the government will need to provide detail as to who will be responsible for collecting the fee on paper bags as well as the parameters for how the revenue from these fees is to be used. Furthermore, RCC will call for government to clarify the limited exception where a retailer can provide a customer with a paper or reusable bag, free of charge. RCC will also push for clarification on how the amount of a fine for non-compliance will be determined. Concurrently, RCC will seek clarification on the definition of a ‘reusable bag’ to ensure that current reusable bags will qualify. Finally, as regulations and guidelines are developed, RCC will continue to push for a more consultative process while pushing for an elimination of the fee on paper bags