TORONTO (Reuters) - Loblaw Co, Canada's biggest supermarket chain, said on Thursday that it will start charging customers a fee for every plastic shopping bag they use.
The company, with more than 1,000 grocery stores across Canada, said it would begin charging customers 5 Canadian cents a bag on April 22, 2009, which is Earth Day.
The company said it would also encourage customers to use alternatives to plastic bags and enhance its offer of affordable reusable bag options. Loblaw currently offers reusable fabric bags to its customers for a small fee.
"We believe this ... represents the next natural step forward as we continue to acknowledge and respond to Canadians' desire to support environmental initiatives," Galen Weston, Loblaw executive chairman, said in a release.
Loblaw's move comes just days before city council in Toronto, Canada's biggest city, debates passing a controversial bylaw to put a surcharge of 5 Canadian cents on all plastic shopping bags used in the city.
Loblaw competitor Sobeys, which is owned by Empire Company, said on Thursday it plans to redirect the money it receives from the Toronto plan into environmental and sustainability initiatives in the city. Sobeys operates 16 stores in Toronto.
"This is about reducing bags from the waste stream and doing the right thing for the environment," said Tracy Chisholm, a spokeswoman for Sobeys' Ontario division.
"We believe that the money generated from that needs to go back into the cause that is in the spirit of the bylaw and goes toward environmental initiatives in supporting the environment."
Chisholm said it was too early to say whether the company would match Loblaw and charge for plastic shopping bags nationwide.
San Francisco became the first North American city to ban nonrecyclable plastic bags made from petroleum products in 2007, while the tiny town of Leaf Rapids in northern Manitoba last year became the first Canadian municipality to prohibit plastic shopping bags.
Countries including China, South Africa, Ireland and Taiwan have placed fees, taxes or outright bans on plastic shopping bags.
Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Peter Galloway