Nunavut communities still use thousands of plastic bags

But NorthMart’s bag return program puts money into community programs


Sales of NorthMart and Northern bags, now sold at 25 cents a bag, are sending thousands of dollars back into some Nunavut communities. (FILE PHOTO)

Sales of NorthMart and Northern bags, now sold at 25 cents a bag, are sending thousands of dollars back into some Nunavut communities. (FILE PHOTO)

The North West Company says it’s seen a 60 per cent reduction in the number of plastic bags handed out at its Nunavut and Nunavik stores since last January, when the company launched its “Greener Tomorrow” program.

In an Oct. 14 news release, the company said its 28 Northmart and Northern stores have managed to reduce plastic bag use by 1.1 million units.

“The program has exceeded our expectations to this point,” said North West Company’s executive vice-president Michael McMullen. “The reduction shows the customer’s commitment to the health of their communities.”

That program gave each household two free reusable bags as a way to cut down on plastic bags use at its stores.

And, at the same time, to encourage customers to switch to reusable bags, Northern and NorthMart stores began charging a 25 cent fee for the plastic bags used to package groceries and other items.

The stores are still handing out thousands of plastic bags.

But now the money that people are spending on plastic shopping bags at Northmart and Northern stores stays at home.

“The collected funds are all being retained in the communities, and over $270,000 has been given back to further sustain and support healthy communities and environmental programs,” McMullen said.

At 25 cents a piece, that’s equal to about one million plastic bag sales — which means that while plastic bag use has dropped, it hasn’t disappeared.

The money collected from bag sales has gone towards programs such as school breakfasts, community clean-ups and scholarships.

In Baker Lake, more than $21,000 helped to pay for bear-proof garbage cans to be placed around the community.

At 25 cents a bag, this amount represents the sales of 84,000 bags or about 49 bags for every man, woman and child in the community since last January.

In Clyde River, $11,234 went to elders’ participation in Quluaq School’s “out on the land” curriculum — that’s equal to about 45,000 bags or 54 per resident over the same period.

The two communities will receive their cheques Oct. 14.

Efforts to cut back on plastic bag use started in Iqaluit more than two years ago.

The Iqaluit retailer Arctic Ventures instituted a 10-cent-a-bag charge in October 2008, and immediately saw a drop of 30 to 40 per cent in the number plastic bags it handed out to customers.

Arctic Ventures also paved the way for the new policy by handing out free reusable bags to customers first.

This past summer, Arctic Co-op stores in Nunavut set a 10-cent charge on its disposable plastic grocery bags.

The money helps cover its recycling program for aluminum cans in Nunavut.

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