Manitoba Liquor Mart customers will soon have to pay a fee for brown paper bags.

Manitoba Liquor Mart customers will soon have to pay a fee for brown paper bags.

All stores will begin charging 10 cents for a medium-size bag on Feb. 1, as Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries attempts to eliminate waste and reduce its environmental footprint, a spokesperson said.

Large paper bags and single-bottle sleeves are being phased out, leaving medium bags as the only store-provided option. The Crown corporation is encouraging customers to use their own reusable bags when shopping at Liquor Marts.

The 10-cent fee will also apply to large bags until the supply runs out. Sleeves will be free until they are discontinued.

Most customers said they weren’t bothered by the fee because they are used to retailers charging for plastic or paper bags. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Most customers said they weren’t bothered by the fee because they are used to retailers charging for plastic or paper bags. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"By switching to reusable bags, we can reduce the more than eight million single-use bags used annually in our stores from entering the recycling and waste streams," the spokesperson said. "This equates to 3,700 trees per year. Not only are we protecting our forests, but we are also reducing harmful greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

"This initiative is focused on decreasing our environmental impact by encouraging our customers to consider using reusable bags while shopping at Liquor Marts."

Liquor Marts sell reusable bags in a variety of sizes. The largest one is capable of carrying a 15-pack of beer and two 750 ml bottles.

Stores will keep sturdier cardboard boxes on hand for large purchases and event orders.

MBLL’s liquor distribution centre acts as a recycling hub for Winnipeg’s Liquor Marts. It sends more than 500 tones of cardboard per year to a local recycling facility.

"This initiative saves over 8,500 mature trees per year," the spokesperson claimed.

The Free Press spoke to customers at a Liquor Mart in Portage la Prairie Tuesday, and most said they weren’t bothered by the fee because they are used to retailers charging for plastic or paper bags.

"Everyone’s doing it. We’re just going to have to get used to not leaving our (reusable) bags in our car," said Patricia Fiddler. "We should be more conscious of our recycling, so I’m all for it."

“We should be more conscious of our recycling, so I’m all for it.” – Patricia Fiddler, customer

Paper bags have been provided free with Liquor Mart purchases for decades. MBLL’s plans to charge a fee have been in the works for some time, though they were temporarily put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

The corporation has been using social media, advertising, in-store signage and its website to inform customers. Staff were notified last week.

The fee will cover bag production and purchasing costs, and is not expected to provide any net revenue to the Crown corporation, the spokesperson said.

In 2020, the total cost of paper bags, including recycling fees, was more than $450,000.

In 2020, the total cost of paper bags, including recycling fees, was more than $450,000.

The Winnipeg-based Green Action Centre, which promotes greener living, said it would like to see the MBLL donate proceeds from the 10-cent fee to environmental charities or initiatives.

Colleen Ans, the organization’s Living Green, Living Well program co-ordinator, welcomed the fee and the MBLL’s pledge to reduce waste and the consumption of energy, water and raw materials.

She is hoping the change will lead to fewer bags being produced and ending up in landfills.

"Similar to charging for plastic bags, a fee does encourage people to stop using paper bags," said Ans. "Paper is still a disposable item. It is still creating waste, and energy is required to make the bags."

Liquor Marts stopped giving customers single-use plastic bags in 2008.

In recent years, the movement to ditch single-use plastics has gained momentum in Canada.

Ottawa is planning to ban single-use plastic items, including bags, cutlery, straws, some take-out containers and six-pack rings, by the end of the year.

Walmart will eliminate single-use plastic bags in its Canadian stores by April 30.

The company said the change will prevent almost 750 million plastic bags from entering circulation each year.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching