Reduction in Plastic Retail Bag Use

Thank You!

The Provincial Government wishes to thank each person and organization who participated in the consultation process on the potential ban on the distribution of single use plastic retail bags. Responses from the public were received between March 5 and March 27, 2019 and close to 3000 submissions were used to inform the What We Heard document. 

View the What We Heard document


There is increased pressure and efforts globally to reduce the amount of plastics entering the environment. Members of the public have engaged the provincial government in this conversation because they believe government plays an integral role, and that a starting point for action is reducing the use of plastic retail bags, meaning they will no longer be available at a checkout.

To make an informed decision, the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment is seeking your opinion on whether a ban is the best approach to reduce plastic retail bags; and the factors to consider if a ban is implemented. Along with stakeholder consultations, this questionnaire is an essential element in ensuring any change meets the needs of businesses and residents in the province.

For purposes of this questionnaire, plastic retail bags refer to checkout bags provided to transport items purchased or received at a business and excludes bags used for dry cleaning; pharmaceutical purposes; in-store bulk items such as fruit, candy and nuts; loose hardware items such as nails; and meats.

What have you heard to date?

The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment has received feedback and requests to ban plastic retail bags. In September 2018, the Provincial Government and the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board met with: Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, regional service boards, landfill representatives, the Retail Council of Canada, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Discussions centered on the potential repercussions of a ban, and it was determined that dedicated public opinion research should be undertaken to inform a potential approach.



Plastics are low cost, durable materials used daily by most residents, providing significant benefits to the economy and quality of life. They can reduce the energy and emissions needed to transport goods, prolong the life of perishable items, and provide durable materials for use in construction, textile, and other sectors. However, some of the characteristics that make plastics so valuable also create major challenges for their end-of-life management. The variability, durability, and low cost of plastics, combined with inadequate incentives and infrastructure to recover and recycle them has contributed to an increasing global environmental problem[1]. Over half the amount of plastic products and packaging entering the consumer market are designed to be used once and thrown away.

The durability of plastic means that plastic waste is long lasting in the environment as litter in communities and can degrade into damaging microplastics. When mistaken for food by animals, birds, and marine life it can transfer contaminants throughout the food chain. Addressing global plastic waste is vital for protecting our oceans, lakes, waterways, and wildlife.

The broad category of plastics includes durable goods like fishing nets, automotive and construction plastics, electronics, and textiles, as well as non-durable goods like packaging and disposables. Plastic products, such as shopping bags, straws, utensils, and take-out containers, are items that are intended to be used briefly before they are thrown away (or in some cases, recycled). Because these items are difficult to collect, they are a source of pollution and make up an estimated 43% of marine litter worldwide. In Canada, they make up more than a third of all plastic waste and are among the top twelve most collected items during Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup1. In Newfoundland and Labrador, plastic retail bags account for less than 1% of the weight of waste generated annually and 6% of large litter found along roadways[2].

Recent initiatives aim to shift from the single use plastics economy to a circular one where plastics are reduced, reused, repaired, and recycled to maximize their value. At the 2018 G7 meetings, Canada committed to move toward a sustainable approach to the management of plastics and signed the Ocean Plastics Charter. Building on the Charter, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment released the Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste. As well, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada have announced that they aim to make 100% of plastic packaging recyclable or divertible by 2030.

[1] CCME. Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste (November, 2018).

[2] Plastic Shopping Bag Management in NL. Status and Options. (February, 2018).

Provincial Distribution Ban

Distribution bans aim to eliminate the consumption of plastic retail bags by removing the ability to acquire them. Some municipalities across the country and one province (Prince Edward Island) have implemented a ban. The Province has received requests to implement a distribution ban to reduce the amount of plastic litter in and around communities, and the harm plastic bags can cause to wildlife and marine environments.

A provincial distribution ban on plastic retail bags will result in an increase in the use of alternatives such as reusable and paper bags. Each of these items has their own environmental footprint and specific advantages and disadvantages. For example, in the absence of plastic retail bags, consumers may purchase thicker kitchen catchers for garbage bin liners, which could translate into an increase in overall plastic consumption. Several comparative lifecycle analyses of paper and plastic retail bags have shown that the production of paper bags can consume more energy, the transportation of paper bags can create more emissions, and the disposal of paper bags can take up a larger volume of material in landfills (i.e. paper is bulkier than plastic). However, paper bags are recyclable in existing curbside programs and are not as problematic when littered or mismanaged at end-of-life. 

It is important to consider that bans can include fees for alternatives. Some jurisdictions have adopted distribution bans on plastic retail bags with mandated fees on the alternatives to limit their overconsumption (i.e. to avoid a one for one switch from plastic to paper). The point of a fee is to encourage people to maximize their use of paper and reusable bags, and not frequently replace them. The Prince Edward Island plastic retail bag ban coming into effect on July 1, 2019 will have mandated fees of $0.15 for a paper bag and $1.00 for a reusable bag, which will increase to $0.25 for a paper bag and $2.00 for a reusable bag on January 1, 2020. The province hopes that mandated fees will reduce consumption, and thus the environmental footprint, of the alternatives. Other jurisdictions have opted to ban plastic retail bags allowing retailers to determine what alternatives to offer the consumer and whether to charge fees on the alternatives.

Other Options

There are other approaches retailers, municipalities, and special interest groups could adopt to reduce plastic retail bags, such as:

  • Retailer implemented fees or incentives to reduce use of plastic retail bags;
  • Municipal bylaws to ban plastic retail bags within municipal boundaries;
  • Government mandated fees on plastic retail bags; and
  • Initiatives to educate the public on waste reduction.

Each of these approaches has specific operational challenges and opportunities for success.

Reduction initiatives could be led by retailers through voluntary initiatives or fees on plastic retail bags. For example, select retailers provide customer incentives for each reusable bag they bring while others charge a fee on plastic retail bags to deter their use.

Some believe that voluntary activities will not have an impact on reducing plastic retail bags and cause customer confusion, while others believe that voluntary initiatives are appropriate. The success of voluntary approaches are linked to the deterrent used (e.g.: fee, ban, or incentive) and how many retailers chose to participate. Similarly, bans of plastic retail bags at a municipal level may create an uneven effort across the province and present challenges for retailers who have operations in multiple communities.

Some jurisdictions have opted to place a mandatory fee on plastic retail bags. Fees charged on the provision of plastic retail bags at the checkout are designed to provide an economic deterrent to their consumption. A fee can be effective in reducing the number of plastic retail bags consumed; however, how the fee is applied and the amount charged can affect success. For example, in 2010, the Northwest Territories adopted legislation to require distributors to collect $0.25 on plastic retail bags and remit the fees to an Environment Fund to cover the program’s administrative costs and support waste reduction programs/initiatives. The fund generates $400,000-$600,000 per year and since 2010, has resulted in a 70% reduction in the number of plastic retail bags distributed.


Get Involved

You can have your say by completing an online questionnaire and/or a written submission.

Please check back after the consultation period for a What We Heard document.

Online Questionnaire

The questionnaire provides a brief overview of the issue and each section includes specific questions and spaces for a response. There is also an opportunity to indicate any additional feedback at the end. It will take you approximately 10 minutes to complete this questionnaire and we thank you in advance for your participation.

The questionnaire will be available until March 27, 2019.

Click here to complete the questionnaire

Written Submissions

If you prefer to participate with a written contribution, you can download or view the discussion guide and either fill out a copy of the guide or prepare a letter/submission responding to the questions. Please consider the following:
  • Provide your written submission and any supporting documents in a single PDF, DOC, DOCX file.
  • Date your submission and include your personal contact information (name, organization name, address, telephone number, etc.).
  • The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment (the Department) may request further elaboration of a written submission from the author of that submission.

Click here to download/view the discussion guide.

Mailing address:   Plastic Bag Consultations
                             Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment
                             4th Floor, West Block, Confederation Building
                             P.O. Box 8700
                             St. John's, NL  A1B 4J6

Email:                   [email protected]

Written submissions will be accepted until March 27, 2019.

All written submissions and information provided by participants during the consultation phase, including their name and organization, where applicable, will be available on this website for public viewing. 

Publication of written submissions
  • All written submissions and information provided by participants, including their names and organizations, if applicable, will be posted on this website for public viewing.
  • By providing a written submission, you are deemed to consent to the publication of the written submission and any supporting documents.
  • By providing a written submission, you are also deemed to consent to the publication of your personal information, such as your name and personal opinions included in the written submission, unless you request, and the Department agrees, that the information not be disclosed.
  • In the absence of a clear indication that a written submission is intended to be confidential, the submission will be treated as public.
  • The Department may withhold from disclosure confidential information and personal information in order to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the submitter of the written submission or others mentioned in the written submission.
  • Publication of a written submission or withholding of personal information and confidential information in a submission is at the discretion of the Department, which will be exercised in accordance with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2015.
  • We would however advise that confidential written submissions may still be subject to an access request under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2015.

The publication of written submissions will be subject to the EngageNL Moderation Policy.


How will your input be used?

The information collected through all parts of the engagement process is being reviewed by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment. All feedback will be considered as officials prepare recommendations.


Privacy Statement

Any personal information that may be received from the online questionnaire will be governed in accordance with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2015 and will only be used for the purpose of collecting public feedback on how to reduce plastic retail bags.


Contact Us

If you have any questions about how this information will be collected, used, and disclosed during the review process, please call the Manager of Environmental Science and Monitoring at (709) 729-4147 or email [email protected].