Reducing Single Use Checkout Bags in Nanaimo

July 2021 Update: On July 1, 2021, the new bylaw regulating checkout bags in Nanaimo came into effect. Questions? Review our FAQ here: Bring Your Own Bag, Nanaimo FAQs - General


The City of Nanaimo is dedicated to taking a leadership role to protect our natural environment and municipal infrastructure. We are keen to reduce the impact that single-use checkout bags have in our community and beyond.

In December 2017, Council passed a motion instructing staff to create a bylaw that would ban the use of plastic bags by retailers in the City of Nanaimo to the extent permitted bylaw. See the Progress tab below for a timeline of milestones from 2017 to today.

The “ Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw 2020 No. 7283" received approval by the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy on February 12, 2021.  The Bylaw returned to Mayor and Council and was adopted on February 22, 2021.  The implementation date was set for July 1, 2021.

When adopted and implemented, the Bylaw will work to protect our natural environment and municipal infrastructure by:

  • Banning plastic checkout bags - Sections 3.1, 3.3(a)
  • Encouraging the reuse of clean reusable checkout bags - Section 3.4
  • Allowing for the sale of paper and reusable checkout bags - Sections 3.2
  • Identify exemptions - Section 4

Paper bags need to contain at least 40% post-consumer recycled content and be labelled as recyclable. Reusable bags for sale should be washable and capable of at least 100 uses. Stepped fees launched at 15 cents for a paper bag, and one dollar per reusable bag.

The regulation lists exemptions, including but not limited to small paper bags, bags for bulk foods and produce, wrap for flowers, and multi-packs of plastic bags. The regulation prohibits the distribution of compostable and biodegradable checkout bags.

Please see the Bylaw for full details on the regulation.

For more information on this project, please open the tabs below or contact the Zero Waste Coordinator at 250-756-5390 or

  • Progress

    A timeline of the checkout bag regulation, from the original motion in 2017, to the implementation date on July 1, 2021.

  • Documents


    Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw 2020 No. 7283

    • 2020-OCT-19: Council passed three readings of the Bylaw and it was forwarded to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for approval.
    • 2021-FEB-12: The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy announced the approval of the Bylaw.
    • 2021-FEB-22: Nanaimo City Council unanimously adopted Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw 2020 No. 7283.

    News releases:


    Council and Committee reports:

  • Details


    Residents, Shoppers and Consumers

    Now is the time to start reducing plastic checkout bags!

    Bring your own bag (BYOBag)!

    Shoppers will need to bring their reusable bags with them, or may need to either go without a bag at checkout or purchase more reusable bags earlier than expected.

    Know your bag!

    Each type of reusable bag has an associated environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and must be reused many times to have a more positive environmental impact than its equivalent in single-use bags. Studies estimate that number to be between 35 and 75 times, depending on the material the reusable bag is made from. Choose reusable bags that are made from post-consumer materials, are washable, and are designed to have a long life (more than 100 uses). Wash your reusable bags regularly, and mend them when needed so you can keep them in use for as long as possible.


    Liner bags in the Black Cart are optional, with a couple exceptions. Rather than turning back to store-bought kitchen and black bags, consider having a bucket that can be carried outside easily and dumped straight into your black cart. When food waste and recyclables are properly sorted, the need for Black Cart liners is significantly reduced. Check out our Organics page for more information.

    Reduce | Reuse | Recycle!

    No matter the checkout bag, it will have a negative environmental impact with its production and end-of-life. The more you use a bag, the lower its environmental impact will be. Local textile recycling options are limited at this time, so please keep your reusable bags in use to prolong their end-of-life.


    Businesses & Retailers

    Get to know the Bylaw.

    A summary of “Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw 2020 No. 7283”

    While a section of Bylaw 7283 is banning plastic checkout bags, the Bylaw as a whole regulates all checkout bags used by customers for the purpose of transporting items purchased or received, including paper bags, plastic bags, and reusable bags.

    • Section 2 – Definitions: This section defines the terms that are used in the following sections of the Bylaw.
    • Section 3 – Checkout Bag Regulation: This section is the bulk of the bylaw, encourages the use of reusable bags by eliminating use of plastic bags, and regulating the distribution of new reusable bags and paper bags. 
    • Section 4 – Exemptions: This section lists exemptions, including but not limited to small paper bags, bags for bulk foods and produce, wrap for flowers, and multi-packs of plastic bags.  It also states that the regulations do not apply to checkout bags that were purchased by a Business prior to adoption of the Bylaw (February 22, 2021).
    • Section 5 – Offence: Describes the penalties for not complying with the Bylaw.  The City recognizes compliance may be limited by COVID-19, including BCCDC health measures and limited inventory.  
    • Section 6 – Severability: A standard section for municipal bylaws.
    • Section 7 – Effective Date: This Bylaw came into force on July 1, 2021.
    • Schedule A – Fee Schedule: Stepped set fees for distributing paper bags and reusable bags.

    Preparing your Checkout Bag Inventory

    The City of Nanaimo has prepared a toolkit to help you prepare your checkout bag inventories. Call 250-756-5390 for assistance, and please see below for the basics of checkout bags that are regulated by the Bylaw.

    Plastic Checkout Bags

    • Shall not be provided to a customer (i.e. they are banned).
    • Includes biodegradable and compostable plastic bags.
    • The Checkout Bag Regulation does not apply to checkout bags that were purchased by a Business prior to adoption of the Bylaw (February 22, 2021).

    Paper Checkout Bags

    • Can be provided per regulations in the Bylaw
    • Design:
      • Made out of paper;
      • Containing at least 40% of post-consumer recycled paper content; and,
      • Displays the words “Recyclable” and “made from 40% post-consumer recycled content” or other applicable amount on the outside of the bag.
    • Fees:
      • $0.15 beginning July 1, 2021
      • $0.25 beginning January 1, 2022

    Reusable Checkout Bags

    • Can be provided per regulations in the Bylaw.
    • Design:
      • Designed and manufactured to be capable of at least 100 uses; and,
      • Primarily made of cloth or other washable fabric.
    • Fees:
      • $1.00 beginning July 1, 2021
      • $2.00 beginning January 1, 2022
  • Background

    The Problem

    Plastic checkout bags aren’t often being recycled or reused. Some end up in our waterways, storm drainage systems and our greenspaces, polluting the environment and damaging municipal infrastructure.

    • 89% of Nanaimo residents thought it was important or very important to improve solid waste management of organics and reduce, reuse, and recycle.
    • Along with Nanaimo, there are eight municipalities in B.C. that have plastic checkout bag bylaws approved by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
    • Each year, approximately 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used in Canada.  This averages 400 bags per person!
    • In Nanaimo, it is estimated 9.5 million plastic bags are landfilled every year, or 95 bags disposed per person.
    • More than 40% of plastic is used only once, and 35% of plastic bags.
    • For 2019 in BC, 77% of all beverage containers, 46% of all residential plastic packaging, and 22% of flexible plastic packaging was recovered for recycling.
    • Plastic bags returned to a Recycle BC depot, along with hard plastic containers put in your Blue Cart, are recycled in the lower mainland through Recycle BC.

    Checkout Bag Regulation FAQs

    Read our FAQs pdf here: Bring Your Own Bag Nanaimo FAQs - General

    The following FAQs go into a bit more detail, and supplement the pdf above. If you have any questions we have not covered, please reach out to us by calling 250-756-5390 or email

    I use my plastic checkout bags more than once, why are they referred to as single-use items?

    While it’s recognized a portion of plastic checkout bags are being reused, statistics show a significant amount are not being reused or recycled. It is estimated residents in Nanaimo dispose of 95 plastic checkout bags per person per year.[1]  This amounts to 9.5 million plastic checkout bags being landfilled in 2020, of which 3.5 million were empty when disposed.  Of the 19,396 tonnes of flexible plastic packaging supplied to BC residents in 2019, only 22% was recovered for recycling.[2]

    What about provincial health regulations on reusable bags during COVID-19?

    Nanaimo businesses have found ways to keep staff and consumers feeling safe while allowing for the use of reusable shopping bags.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, Nanaimo shoppers have said no to plastic checkout bags by finding alternatives such as:

    • Following store protocols regarding reusable bags, generally keeping bags off the till surface and packing their own bags in the cart.
    • Asking the store for a box to reuse.
    • At the till, reloading the shopping cart with loose (unbagged) items, then wheeling the cart outside to transfer the items into:
      • Reusable bags
      • Totes kept in the trunk of a vehicle
      • A foldable wheeled shopping cart
      • Panniers/saddle bags on a bicycle
      • Carry carts on mobility scooters
      • Insulated shopping bags or coolers
    • Ordering groceries by telephone or online, then requesting the store use boxes or paper bags for delivery or curbside pickup.

    As of February 5, the current BCCDC standards for food businesses allowing reusable grocery bags is:

    • Premises must document store policy for accepting reusable containers such as grocery bags, coffee mugs, and customer owned food containers in the COVID-19 safety plan. Use the plan to inform customers of this policy.
    • Premises must document store policy for accepting reusable containers such as grocery bags, coffee mugs, and customer owned food containers in the COVID-19 safety plan. Use the plan to inform customers of this policy.
    • ‎If reusable bags are accepted at a retail store, then customers may be asked to pack the bags themselves. If employees handle or pack groceries into reusable bags they are expected to practice frequent hand washing as described in this poster, hand hygiene. Employees are reminded that gloves are not a replacement for good and frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing.

    Why are compostable and biodegradable (“bioplastic”) checkout bags not exempted?

    The primary reasons for including compostable and biodegradable bags in the plastic checkout bag ban are:

    • Inconsistent labelling standards for bioplastics. Some plastic bags labelled as compostable or biodegradable do not fully breakdown in our organics facility, resulting in micro-plastics in the soil.
    • There are volume limitations. Our organics facility does not have the capacity to process compostable checkout bags if they were distributed at the current rate of plastic checkout bags.
    • Littering leads to plastic pollution. Compostable bags only decompose in certain conditions, and do not sufficiently break down if they end up in ditches or waterways.
    • Consistency with neighbouring municipal bans. Nanaimo’s Bylaw aligns with checkout bag regulations across the Province, making it more straight forward for businesses and consumers to prepare for and comply with the Bylaw.

    Does this mean I can no longer use liner bags in my carts for curbside collection?

    The guidelines for using liners/bags in the curbside collection carts are still the same as when the automated program launched in 2018:

    • Blue Cart (recyclables) – Do not use a liner/bag, recyclables must be loose in the cart.
      • Exception: shredded paper should be contained in a transparent bag, tied at the top with air removed.
    • Black Cart (landfill) – Liners/bags are optional for general household garbage.
      • Exception: dust and particulate (e.g. vacuum contents) and pet waste should be securely bagged; and, during COVID-19 securely bagging personal hygiene items, like used Kleenex and disposable wipes.
    • Green Cart (yard and food waste) – Liners/bags are optional. Acceptable liners include shredded paper, paper bags, newspaper, a cereal box, or certified compostable bags.Certified compostable bags must be stamped with one of the following logos:


    Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw 2020 No. 7283 only applies to checkout bags, which are defined as “any bag intended to be used by a customer for the purpose of transporting items purchased or received by the customer from the Business providing the bag.”  The Bylaw does not limit or restrict the sale of bags intended for use at the customer’s home or Business, provided that they are sold in packages of multiple bags.


    Can you explain more about compostability requirements for bioplastics?

    The terminology and labelling on bioplastics is often confusing and misleading.  You likely have seen some of these terms: compostable, Certified Compostable, biodegradable, degradable, omnidegradable, bio-based, biopolymer, plant-based, PLA with a number 7 stamp.  Some of this terminology describes how an item was made, other refers to end-of-life, and some is marketing-driven.  

    To meet requirements in the Green Cart, bioplastics must certified compostable and stamped with a BPI logo or logo.  These certifications meet national and international standards to guarantee, in a defined time being processed by an industrial composting facility, the item will fully break down into organic matter and leave behind no trace of plastic fragments.

    To process organics effectively, industrial composting facilities need specific conditions such as temperature, oxygen levels, moisture, and processing time.  There also needs to be the right thresholds of material: a high volume of readily compostable organic matter (e.g. food waste), to a low amount of less active waste (e.g. compostable liner bags, pizza boxes, leaves).

    For compostable plastics, surface area matters.  For example, thin bags designed to be cart liners for food waste will break down faster than a thicker bag designed to carry heavy groceries without breaking.   As an example for other compostable alternatives, thin compostable plastic lining on a takeout food container will break down much more readily than chunky compostable cutlery.

    City of Nanaimo staff are developing a guide for businesses and residents to better understand best-practices on compostable and recyclable packaging that aligns with our local infrastructure.  If you have any questions, please contact us at 


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