Huntingdon became the first Quebec municipality to go plastic bag free - at store check-out counters, at least - and the transition has been surprisingly painless, merchants say.

"It's been going extremely well," said Alain Fournier, general manager of the IGA supermarket in the town about 70 kilometres southwest of Montreal.

"I would say 80 per cent of our customers remember to bring their own bags." At the Dépanneur M. Fournier & Fils, there's been some eye-rolling and whining at the cash register, employee Sabrina Breton said. But most patrons knew the bylaw was coming into effect and have got into the habit of bringing their own bags, she said.

The Huntingdon bylaw means no retail outlet can distribute plastic bags, no advertiser can deliver fliers in plastic bags, and residents are not even supposed to line their garbage bins with green plastic bags.

The bylaw is part of a broader program, championed by Mayor Stéphane Gendron, to reduce waste at landfill sites. The plan includes a town-run recycling plant, a new "eco-centre" serving the town and surrounding region and, eventually, a composting facility with curbside compost collection for residents.

While stores can still sell products wrapped or bagged or boxed in all manner of wasteful plastic packaging, banning plastic bags is a start, the mayor says.

Those who forget to take their own bags can buy a reusable sack at the IGA for 99 cents. As a last resort, the stores supply paper bags, but reluctantly.

"We really try to discourage paper bags, too," Fournier said.

"We want them to use the reusable bags, because it saves us all money in the end. Paper bags are not much better than plastic for the environment. Paper means cutting down trees." The IGA made the transition easier on customers by handing out durable, plastic-coated reusable bags from Nov. 26 to Dec. 9 to anyone who purchased at least $25 in groceries.

The store handed out more than 9,000 free reusable bags.

The supermarket stopped distributing plastic bags at its checkout counters on Dec. 9, well before the bylaw came into force.

"We wanted to give people time to adjust, with lots of warning," Fournier said.


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