Frequently asked questions

This page contains additional information on the By-law prohibiting the distribution of certain types of shopping bags in retail stores (16-051). The ban takes effect on January 1, 2018.

When was the by-law prohibiting the distribution of certain shopping bags in retail stores adopted?

In 2015, Montréal mandated its Standing committee on water, the environment, sustainable development and major parks to hold a public consultation to study the implications and impacts of banning single-use shopping bags in retail stores over its territory. In December 2015, the committee issued its recommendations in favour of adopting a by-law to ban certain types of shopping bags.

On August 23, 2016, the city adopted the By-law prohibiting the distribution of certain types of shopping bags in retail stores (16-051). Montréal is thus joining a global movement to take action to protect the environment. The ban for merchants offering light plastic bags to consumers will take effect on January 1, 2018.

Why ban single-use shopping bags?

Light plastic shopping bags are an environmental problem when they are not recycled. Their decomposition in landfill sites may take several hundred years. In addition to being a visual nuisance, lost or abandoned plastic bags have a significant impact on terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The plastic particles ingested by fauna enter the ocean food chain which includes humans.

Currently, between 1.4 and 2.7 million shopping bags, mostly plastic, are distributed each year in Québec. Only 14% of these bags are recovered. Furthermore, the ban on distributing certain types of bags is intended to encourage reduction at source, which advocates among other things, the reduction of packaging. Using reusable containers and bags and banning single-use products are two simple gestures that promote reduction at source.

Is Montréal the only city in the world to take this initiative?

Montréal’s initiative to ban plastic bags is part of the collectively agreed upon desire of cities from around the world, gathered in Paris in December 2015, to accelerate the pace in the fight against climate change. Currently, several cities and metropolitan regions in the U.S. and Europe have also decided to take action to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags. For example, more than 160 U.S. cities have already abolished single-use plastic bags.

By banning plastic bags on its territory, Montréal is participating in a worldwide movement that includes notably, the following cities, regions and countries:

  • France
  • Italy
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Long Beach
  • Brooklyn
  • Portland
  • Washington
  • Seattle
  • Morocco
  • Tunisia
  • Rwanda
  • Kenya
  • Bangladesh
  • Beverly Hills
  • San Pablo
  • United Kingdom
  • Sacramento

In Canada, several cities have voted to abolish them, including Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Thompson and Leaf Rapids, Manitoba and Huntingdon, Sainte-Martine, Saint-Anselme, Québec.

At what moment will the ban take effect?

The ban for merchants offering light plastic bags to consumers will take effect on January 1, 2018. However, a transition period has been provided for so that merchants can comply with the new by-law. The city is offering a six-month grace period through June 5, 2018 to all merchants. During this period, no coercive measures will be taken to enforce the by-law.

What are the goals of the ban?

The ban, from here to January 1, 2018, of single-use plastic bags in Montréal aims to reach several objectives, including the following:

  • support reduction at source;
  • promote the use of reusable and recyclable bags;
  • reduce the quantity of abandoned plastic bags found in terrestrial and marine ecosystems;
  • eliminate by 2025 the amount of buried single-use shopping bags;
  • participate in the harmonization of municipal by-laws throughout the territory of the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal.

What types of plastic shopping bags are covered by the ban?

The ban affects the distribution, in retail businesses, of conventional plastic shopping bags with a thickness of less than 50 microns. This 50-micron standard is inspired by a European directive; an equivalent standard is also being used in the state of California. Beyond this thickness, it is unlikely that a bag would fly away and become abandoned waste.

Oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable or biodegradable shopping bags are also covered by the ban, regardless of their thickness.

Why ban oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable and biodegradable bags? Don’t they represent a good solution for the environment?

These bags will be banned, regardless of their thickness, as they are contaminants in the recycling process.

In addition, oxo-degradable and oxo-fragmentable bags are made of plastic to which an oxidizing agent is added, allowing them to degrade into smaller pieces (even invisible to the naked eye) which is not a good solution for the environment. Indeed, these bags are not biodegradable and can generate negative effects through the accumulation of plastic particles in the environment. These types of bags are also contaminants in the composting process.

What types of plastic bags are not covered by the ban?

The ban provides for exceptions; therefore, the following bags are allowed:

  • plastic bags used exclusively to transport foodstuffs to the cash counter of a retail business or to protect them, for hygiene purposes, from direct contact with other items (fruits, vegetables, nuts, bulk confectionery, prepared foods, meat, fish, bread, dairy products, etc.).

It is always possible to opt for a plastic bag to shop. In that case, it is recommended to use a reusable bag manufactured:

  • from recycled and recyclable plastic;
  • in monomatter (handle, seam and bag made from the same material);
  • locally.

Plastic bags that contain advertising material as part of door-to-door distribution, plastic bags from businesses that offer dry-cleaning services and products that are already packaged industrially are not affected by the by-law.

 

What solutions are possible for merchants who must comply with the by-law?

Various options are available to comply with the by-law, including:

  • not to give a bag for goods already packed or already in boxes;
  • encourage customers to bring their reusable bags;
  • re-use the boxes collected in the context of commercial supply operations, i.e., deliveries and orders;
  • distribute or sell a compliant reusable bag for transactions that actually require the use of a bag.

Considering the primary objective of the by-law, namely reduction at source, the city encourages merchants to aim for a reduction in the number of bags distributed and not to systematically distribute a bag at each transaction, even if it is in accordance with the regulations.

Does the regulation provide for penalties to merchants who do not comply with the by law?

Yes, By-law 16-051 provides for sanctions. However, by adopting this by-law, the city wishes to give merchants time to adapt to this new regulation. To this end, the city is offering a six-month grace period through June 5, 2018 to all merchants. During this period, no coercive measures will be taken to enforce the by-law.

At what point in time could fines be imposed?

A transition period has been provided for so that merchants can comply with the new by-law. The city is offering a six-month grace period, through June 5, 2018 (World Environment Day), to all merchants. During this period, no coercive measures will be taken to enforce the by-law. After June 5, fines may be issued.

What will the fines be?

  1. In the case of an individual:
    1. for a first offence, the fine is from $200 to $1,000;
    2. for a subsequent offence, the fine is from $300 to $2,000.
  2. In the case of a corporation:
    1. for a first offence, the fine is from $400 to $2,000;
    2. for a subsequent offence, the fine is from $500 to $4,000.

How did Montreal plan this ban?

The ban on single-use plastic bags is part of a global approach to waste management in Greater Montréal. In September 2016, the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal adopted its new Metropolitan waste management plan 2015-2020 (MWMP).

Approved by the government, the MWMP 2015-2020 contains objectives and measures to achieve the goals of the provincial waste management policy. The banning of single-use plastic bags is one of the measures envisaged in the MWMP 2015-2020.

Which municipalities in the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal have, to date, indicated their intention to ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags?

By June 2017, 32 municipalities or regional county municipalities (RCMs) had adopted resolutions or a by-law in support of this ban, representing 75% of the population of the metropolitan area of Montreal. These municipalities or RCMs are:

Municipality or MRCPopulation1%
Brossard 85 721 50 %
Calixa-Lavallée 523
Contrecoeur 7 887
Deux-Montagnes 17 496
Montréal 1 704 694
Mont-Saint-Hilaire 18 585
Saint-Basile-le-Grand 17 059
Saint-Jean-Baptiste 3,107
Saint-Amable 12 167
Sainte-Julie 29,881
Varennes 21,257
Verchères 5,835
Beloeil 22 458 25 %
Candiac 21 047
Châteauguay 47 906
Charlemagne 5 913
Delson 7 457
Laval 422 993
Longueuil 239 700
Lorraine 9 352
Mercier 13 115
Notre-Dame-de-l'Île-Perrot 10 654
Repentigny 84 285
Richelieu 5 236
Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville 26 394
Saint-Isidore 2 608
Saint-Mathieu-de-Beloeil 2 619
Saint-Philippe 6 320
Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue 4 958
Sainte-Thérèse 25 989
MRC de Beauharnois-Salaberry (partie CMM) 12 884
MRC de Marguerite-D'Youville  

Other municipalities should be joining the movement.

1Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Population 2016, Area: Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal, 2017.

Why did the Montreal decide to act now?

Since 2008, a voluntary code of good practices for the use of shopping bags by Quebec retailers has managed to reduce the quantity of those bags by more than half. Environmental groups have also advocated for the use of reusable bags and retailers have introduced tariff measures of 0.05 cents for each plastic bag used.

Today, we see that effective voluntary measures have been put in place by some businesses. For example, since the implementation of its strategy of banning plastic bags in 2006, the Société des alcools du Québec has withdrawn 80 million bags a year from the market. The extent of these measures may however vary from one territory to another as they depend on the will of the retailers to apply them. In addition, there are still between 1.4 and 2.7 billion shopping bags, mainly plastic bags, being distributed annually in Quebec.

With its decision to ban plastic bags, Montreal has resolved to give new impetus to the effort required to reduce the negative impacts of plastic bags on the environment. By adopting the January 1, 2018 deadline for this ban to take effect, Montreal also considers that it has set an adequate amount of time to allow consumers and merchants to prepare for the transition to the ban.

Why did Montreal choose to ban bags rather than charge fees for them, as in the case of Ireland?

The Standing committee on water, the environment, sustainable development and major parks analyzed the different options, including fees. The committee concluded that the ban was the most appropriate solution for Montreal. Furthermore, Montreal is encouraging voluntary charging for other types of bags that will be offered in stores as an alternative.

Since February 2016, Brossard has a by-law on plastic bags. What lessons should be learned?

Brossard’s by-law prohibiting the distribution on its territory of plastic shopping bags in businesses came into force on September 1, 2016.

The by-law specifically bans offering, selling, distributing and making available to consumers any plastic shopping bag or compostable shopping bag throughout the entire territory of Brossard.

Six months after the by-law came into force, Brossard has had a very positive assessment of the experience. Recognizing that the adoption and enforcement of the by-law has provoked numerous reactions and questions from citizens and merchants, the city noted that six months later the by-law was very well received and that the various stakeholders were able to adjust quickly. Thus, 91% of the 800 merchants in the municipality have complied.

Of the alternatives to plastic bags retained by merchants, 40% opted for paper bags, 24% decided not to distribute bags, 19% offer conventional reusable bags (made of polypropylene, polyester or textile), while 18% offer reusable plastic bags with a thickness greater than 100 microns (as prescribed by the by-law).

Brossard concludes that this initiative has helped to promote behaviour change and public awareness. The initiative also made it possible for the municipality to stand out from an environmental standpoint throughout Québec.

Do restaurant owners have to comply with the by-law?

No. The by-law does not target restaurant owners. 

Are plastic bags for medication that pharmacies offer prohibited by the by-law?

Yes, the by-law prohibits these plastic bags.