Dettah recycling centre

Waste Reduction and Recycling

Single-use Retail Bag Program

All paper, plastic and biodegradable bags cost 25¢ in all Northwest Territories stores. Since the start of the program in 2010, more than 76 million bags have been kept out of NWT landfills and off the land.

The program was started to address the millions of single-use bags that cause unsightly litter in our communities and on the land and are hazardous to wildlife. Single-use bags take a long time to break down, and when they do, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastics, known as microplastics, that can end up in our waters and soil. Single-use bags use a lot of natural resources and energy for manufacturing and shipping to northern communities. They also take up space in our landfills.

How does it work?

If you forget your reusable bag, you can purchase a disposable bag at the register. All retailers and distributors (where stores get their bags) must be registered with the GNWT.

The retail store buys their bags for 25¢ from a distributor, and sells them to you for the same price. The distributor then passes those fees to the Environment Fund, a fund established by the Waste Reduction and Recovery Act. This fund pays for program expenses and helps create new waste reduction and recovery programs.

What disposable bags aren’t included?

The program does not include:

  • Bags used inside stores for unpackaged bulk items like produce, bakery, candy and small hardware items.
  • Bags for prescription drugs, dry cleaning and primary packaging of prepared food.

What’s wrong with single-use bags?

Plastic bags can take hundreds if not thousands of years to break down, as well as requiring resources and generating waste to be produced and shipped to the NWT.

Paper bags also require significant inputs of energy and natural resources. The GNWT is seeking local solutions to recycle the large amount of waste cardboard and paper in the NWT, but a reusable bag is still a more sustainable option.

Biodegradable bags may be made of a variety of materials, and are not necessarily good for the environment.  Some just break down into smaller pieces of plastic, while others only degrade under specific environmental conditions, like in a compost facility. Unfortunately, they do not degrade well in the NWT.

How do I maintain my reusable bags?

When using reusable bags, make sure to:

  • Wash before first use
  • Wash between uses

Regulations and policies