Three of the community’s biggest stores – Sobeys, Valley Foods and Home Hardware – have banded together to get rid of single-use plastic bags at their checkout counters. The change will come into effect at all three shops on Friday, January 31.

Back in December, Invermere’s mayor, Al Miller, committed to consulting with local business owners about getting rid of checkout bags. Now he’s ditching plastic bags at his store, Home Hardware, and has partnered up with the Invermere grocery stores to do likewise.

When Miller approached Valley Foods, he said, “surprise, surprise, they informed me that they had already made the decision to get rid of them.”

Sobeys had already made that call too. Nationwide the chain is cutting back on plastic bags. Locally, owner Steve Ladas said the store will still provide plastic bags for meat and produce but that the single-use checkout bag will be a relic of the past. They will continue selling reusable bags and start selling paper bags and heavier 25-use plastic bags.

Valley Foods and Home Hardware have similar plans and will be offering paper bags in addition to their reusable bags.

“We don’t want to replace plastic with paper,” said Eric Lapointe, store manager for Valley Foods. “I want people to bring reusable bags.”

He said “grocery stores are probably the worst offenders (for single-use plastic bags),” adding that he’s enthusiastic about the change and about representing the first Associated Grocers store to get rid of checkout plastics.

When he talked with Joe’s No Frills, Miller was informed that the store will promote reusable bags and baskets but will continue selling plastic checkout bags. Even so, the shift means none of the “worst offenders” in the Invermere area will be giving bags away for free.

“Plastic has been too easy as far as I’m concerned,” said Ladas, who is looking forward to disincentivising waste.

Getting rid of the single-use checkout bags is “probably one of the biggest endeavours that I’ve taken on in the grocery business,” he said.

Lapointe said some of the challenges could be mitigated by having the three stores make the change collectively to ensure the switch will be more supported in the community and to help customers get used to bringing their reusable bags wherever they shop.

“We won’t see as many of those bags along the highway stuck in the fence and the trees,” Ladas said. “If I see it, I’ll pull over and just grab them.”

Miller agreed that seeing bags littering the ground is frustrating, especially when they come from his store.

“They show up like a sore thumb, those yellow Home Hardware bags,” he said.

All three feel that the change is a big deal for the community.

“You’re making a start. You’re being a leader by setting an example. That’s the best thing we can do as Canadians. This is awesome,” said Lapointe.

Miller said that in his consultations he came across a few smaller stores that are also getting rid of plastic bags and that he intends to keep the conversations going.

“We’re a small community, and we all care about what happens in the future,” he said.

Steph Van de Kemp, a resident who organized a petition to ask Invermere council to ban single-use plastic bags, appreciates the switch the three retailers are making.

“The scale of plastic pollution is overwhelming, so I’m really excited to hear about these local businesses making a commitment to stop handing out plastic bags,” she said. “It takes courage to be a leader and I’m grateful to the businesses that are stepping up to the plate.”

Even so, she still hopes council will ban plastic bags and set a mandatory fee for paper bags to encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags.