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The new bags are a throwback to the company's historic roots making burlap bags for potatoes. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

P.E.I. Bag Company Goes Back to its Roots as Plastic Bag Ban Approaches

P.E.I. Potato Board also seeing increased interest in paper bagging

The P.E.I. legislation banning plastic checkout bags coming into effect in 2019 is inspiring a couple of industries to look back to the past for more environmentally-friendly packaging.

The P.E.I. Bag Company in Bedeque, P.E.I., is tapping into its roots with a new line of reusable shopping bags.

“It has been a bit of an opportunity for P.E.I. Bag Company,” said general manager Thane Smallwood.

“We decided to get into selling some of the jute- or burlap-handle bags and that sort of fits with our history.”

The company started in 1935 making burlap bags for packaging potatoes.

Smallwood describes the new line as premium bags which come at premium prices, ranging from $4 to $10 for individual sales, with a better rate for wholesale orders.

“These bags are 100 per cent biodegradable, all natural, plant-based material as well as reusable,” said purchase manager Pranav Trivedi.

“It is labour intensive, unlike the plastic side of the business that is machine based so that is why it is slightly premium priced.”

‘On their radar’

The P.E.I. Bag Company makes paper and poly bags for customers in agriculture, aquaculture and the sugar business across Canada and the U.S.

Smallwood says the company’s industrial customers are also looking for packaging that is recyclable or compostable as concern about single-use plastic grows.

“I think it’s on their radar from the perspective of the bigger picture with regard to the environmental impact,” he said.

Smallwood says 70 to 80 per cent of what is produced at the manufacturing plant is paper-type packaging.

“The ban gives you a sense of where we need to go as a society,” Smallwood said.

“I think that’s all going to have an impact from the perspective of pushing us all whether it be manufacturers or users to improve the situation.”

New products on horizon

Smallwood said his sales team attended trade shows in Florida and Germany this year, where new options for packaging were being showcased.

“Poly that perhaps is manufactured with starch type products that would be recyclable or 100 per cent compostable,” Smallwood said.

“You are seeing a trend over the last couple of years of a lot of those companies investigating other options when it comes to paper, where in the past they’ve been using poly as well.”

Potato bags mostly paper

Meanwhile the P.E.I. Potato Board said it’s also starting to hear from consumers looking for more environmentally friendly packaging.

But unlike other industries, it’s starting with an advantage.

“Potatoes were predominantly packed in paper for many, many years and still are to a large degree, over 50 per cent is still in paper,” said Kendra Mills, marketing director for the potato board.

“Potatoes may be the only product in the produce section that still is packed largely in paper.”

Mills said there was a move years ago to more plastic bags because consumers wanted to see the potatoes they were buying.

“We have made a move to poly and that is from a convenience pack standpoint, to answer consumer demand,” Mills said.

“But if it’s something we need to make some changes on, I’m sure the industry will be looking out long term to do that.”

Mills said in Europe, there has been a move to a new five-pound paper bag with handles that’s become popular.

She said it’s been featured at trade shows and some Canadian companies are looking at a prototype of the bag for potatoes here as well.

Paper, she said, is a good option for the potato industry.

“It’s the best way to pack potatoes, it doesn’t let light in which causes greening…. It allows the potatoes to breathe and they last longer on the shelf so we would like to see that continue.”


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