9.2 Trends in Single-use Retail Bag (SRB) distribution

This indicator tracks the number of single-use plastic, paper and biodegradable bags that are distributed to NWT retail stores.

The littering of single-use retail bags in and around communities is aesthetically unappealing and was identified as an issue of concern during ENR’s consultations with the public on the expansion of the Waste Reduction and Recovery Program. To address this issue, ENR created the Single-use Retail Bag Program (SRBP).

NWT Focus

On January 15, 2010, ENR implemented Phase I of the SRBP, requiring all grocery stores to charge customers a 25¢ surcharge for each SRB requested at the check-out counter. On February 1, 2011, Phase II began and all retail stores were required to collect the SRB surcharge. SRB distributors collect the surcharges upfront from retailers upon distribution of bags, and this money is remitted to the Environment Fund on a quarterly basis. 

Current view: status and trend

ENR estimated that prior to the implementation of the SRBP, residents used approximately 8.9 million SRBs per year (the equivalent to 208 per person, based on information from Resource Conservation Manitoba1). Based on this data and information provided by retailers and distributors, it is estimated NWT residents reduced their SRB use by 72% in 2013-14, compared with before the start of the SRBP.

Since the start of the program, almost 24 million bags have been kept out of NWT landfills and off the land. This has led to the reduction of an estimated 199 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, which is equal to taking almost 42 vehicles off the road2.

Looking forward

ENR continues to encourage businesses and consumers to go bag-free, and strives to maintain this high rate of participation in the SRBP to reduce singlue-use retail base use.

Looking around

  • The GNWT is the first provincial/territorial jurisdiction to regulate the distribution of single-use paper, plastic and biodegradable bags in Canada. 
  • A number of municipal governments across Canada have introduced by-laws that prohibit or reduce the use of plastic bags through bag fees. 

Find out more


Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.


Ref. 1. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. 2009. Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility. Winnipeg, MB.

Ref. 2. Government of the Northwest Territories. 2015. Waste Reduction and Recovery Program 2013-2014 Annual Report. Yellowknife, NT.

Updated: May 26, 2015